When special effects go wrong

Friday evenings are always a bit crazy: Part II

Friday evenings are always a bit crazy

Animating a deer in Photoshop

A MAZE. Indie Connect 2012

A MAZE. Indie Connect 2012 is the first independent games festival in Germany and takes place in Berlin this week at April 26 and 27.

The festival wants to foster bold and experimental indie games and honors one of the 10 nominees with 5000 EUR (6500 USD) and a terrific looking trophy. In the long run the Indie Connect wants to bring together game developers with all kinds of disciplines and art forms that are related to games like chiptune music, game art, academic research, machinima, writing, media art, game development … and so on.

The festival director Thorsten Wiedemann is known for an interdisciplinary approach to games. He is responsible for heaps of events and festivals that pushed games out of their usual context like the A MAZE. United, A MAZE. Interact, the Global Game Jam Berlin (that took place in a night club) or the provoking Games Culture Circle where fine guests like Eric Zimmerman and Ralph Baer spoke already.

Although the festival is in its first year, the program is already impressive. Keynote speaker Jonatan Söderström (Cactus) opens the conference on Thursday with a talk about the consequences of success for indie games. On Friday developer and researcher Douglas Wilson (best known for his smash hit Johann Sebastian Joust) will ‘sing’ an ode to Proteus, followed by the guys from Vlambeer (Super Crate Box) who will talk about ‘Sensible Nonsense’.

Two days of talks, workshops, a pretty award show and Berlin-style parties are included for an affordable 60 EUR fee (78 USD). You can get your tickets here. See you there!

Desktop Wallpapers for your Mac or PC

Desktop Wallpaper

With Spirits being out on the Mac App Store, we made three new desktop wallpapers for you. They are in the standard aspect ratios: 16:9, 16:10 and 4:3 up to a resolution of 2560 x 1440.
Oh and in case you missed it, we still have iPad and iPhone wallpapers in stock.

Spirits at the A MAZE. United exhibition

If you are in Berlin come and play Spirits at the A MAZE United exhibition, which takes place at Torstrasse 68 in cooperation with the Transmediale 11. We will be at the gallery on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The exhibition is open 6 – 10pm from February 2nd – 5th.

From the A MAZE. website:

“By combining courage for experimentation and joy in gaming, A MAZE. celebrates the convergence of computer games and art. A MAZE. plans to unite people via interaction, light and movement. The four-day event A MAZE. United at systM gallery shows an intimate selection of works, which are part of the future playground. In cooperation with Born Digital, an electronic art collective from Utrecht, Ciant the International Centre for Art and New Technologies in Prague, and Ludic Interfaces, a future European Masters programme, it will bring you closer to the magic of video mapping, audio visualisation and playful interaction betwwen knowledge and passion. systM gallery, a well-know venue with a regular changing and interdisciplinary arts programme, will host the event.”


Spirits are shy beings. Make a first careful contact with them by saving these wallpapers on the iOS device of your choice. Be nice to them and more Spirits will follow soon.

iPad Lockscreen & Homescreen (1024×1024)

iPhone 4 Retina Lockscreen & Homescreen (640×960)

iPhone Lockscreen & Homescreen (320×480)

Painting a tree

Watch me paint an art asset for Spirits in this 8 min video. For the very first time you can also hear our game soundtrack in this video. It’s composed by Martin Straka.

How the art style for Spirits evolved

»Spirits« is an action-strategy game where you help a tribe of leaf-shaped spirits to reach their final destination. To do this you manipulate the wind or build and destroy elements of the levels. This blog post will explain the decisions and thoughts that lead to the final art style of Spirits, and how this process also influenced parts of the game design.

At our first meeting Mattias showed me an early prototype he had designed. The general idea was a Lemmings-like game with ants walking on leaves and sticks. We both liked the natural setting but wanted to have a more fairy-tale like atmosphere and character. At that time I was still illustrating Andreas’ experimental game series The Black Forest which has a very abstract representation of a ghost as an avatar. It was just a rectangle with two dots as eyes. Initially I wanted to make this abstract character more lively, but it didn’t fit the concept of The Black Forest. Instead I took my ideas and applied them on Spirits.

Before I could start designing the character, we had to decide on the proportions of the characters and the game world. How big should the character be in terms of pixels? Due to technical limitations of the iPhone we initially decided to use a sprite sheet of 512 × 512 pixels. The bigger the character would be, the fewer frames I could use for the character animation. But if I made the character too small the game would loose atmosphere and important details.

I sketched some sizes and we decided on 48 × 48 pixels which looked and felt good. But I proceeded to paint all the character states in 72 × 72 pixels, since it was only slightly more work and gave us more flexibility in case we changed our mind. However, after a while this still felt limiting and we decided to allocate even more graphics memory to the main character.

Already early on, I tried to capture a spooky atmosphere in the sketches. I drew the overall light situation quite dark with a point light source from behind and a weak bounce light hitting the front. This means most of the area beneath the ground is an even dark color, which draws the players attention to the ground surface where the spirits walk.

Later on we added a strongly blurred and colorful background to make the atmosphere feel less dark and more mystical, but the overall style of Spirits is still based on these early sketches and this lightning setup.

After the style and the proportions were roughly set, I began to sketch some more characters. I had the idea that the characters could be sleepwalking. This would explain why they would always wander heedlessly in one direction. At first this seemed great, but after trying it out it felt too artificial and not the direction we wanted to keep working in.

Another idea was born out of my love for insects. There are these amazing insects which mimic leaves and sticks for camouflage. Since the spirits inhabit the forest, I thought about the possibility that they could have adopted to the forest environment and therefore look more like leaves. I sketched this idea down quickly (see the lower right corner).

We further developed this idea and ended up with a character with a big leaf as a head, without arms but having legs. Because of the general ghostlike look of the sketches the character seemed like a spirit, which rises from a fallen leaf. This is what it ultimately became for us.

The character design influenced an important aspect of the game design. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to have a more dynamic component in the game, which influenced the spirits in some way. We were thinking about fluids and gas at first, but the leaf-like spirit character inspired us to use wind instead.

While I developed the character I also sketched the backgrounds. We wanted to have them in a painted style, but also create a lot of levels without using huge amount of memory. To do this we use small tiles and shapes that are put together into levels. So basically I painted a lot of small elements which we could put together in various ways. This worked well because of the flexible level editor we developed at the same time. The image below shows an early level which we used to test this process.

As mentioned before we wanted the atmosphere to feel less dark, so color was added to the backgrounds. I wanted the light to appear as if the viewer looks into the sunset through a dense forest. The viewer wouldn’t see direct sunlight, only bounce light, illuminated fog and trees.

I made a quick sketch to figure out the color values. The bounce light in the foreground was reduced in strength to emphasize the effect of looking directly into the sunset.

Then I made the same thing again with abstract shapes and without distracting details.

The strong orange color in the background makes the overall atmosphere friendly but the dark blue (no it’s not black!) ground color keeps the spooky and dark touch to it. We liked this approach and so we decided to go with it.

Below you can see the final art style we are using for Spirits.