Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Something else for the TS3 game.  Designing a toy is both fun and boring at the same time.  You have some interesting restrictions to play around with and the result is appealing and familiar even when it's something new.  But then there's this frustrating threshold of imagination and life that you just can't cross without losing the things that make it toy-like.
I never finished the interior shots because the game went a different direction, but you can at least see where I was planning to go.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The best muffin I've ever drawn

Here's some unused concept art I did for the last game I worked on .  I might post more every once in a while just to keep things from getting too word-y around here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Retraction of Sorts

I said that premise should be the first thing you address, but someone's great comment made me think I should revise the part about it being first.  Purpose and premise, while extremely useful in the search for good design, don't need to define your process.  Especially if you have a method that already works for you.  For some people the exploration and discovery process is something that comes naturally.  Great ideas can come from many sources and sometimes in surprising ways.

That said, at some point along the road, you should be able to answer these questions or you'll have a hard time pushing your paintings or designs to the next level.  Go ahead and look at premise first if you don't know where else to start, but if you have a feel for where you want to start, do that first and then try to address premise and purpose retroactively.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

More on Premise

I threw "premise" into the last post almost like an afterthought, but I should have talked about it first.  Premise is usually where you start.  There are a variety of definitions for premise.  In logic, premise is a foundational part of an argument; it's the presumed truth that the conclusion is based on.  In story, premise is the core concept the story is based on, and can usually be summed up with a "What if?" question.  For example, the movie Inception is based on the premise, "What if you could 'con' someone through their dreams?"  Some arguments for premise say it must include the central conflict of the story, which would make it impossible to state the premise of Inception in a single sentence.

My use of premise assumes that, like a story or a logical argument, every component of a property has a foundational idea that it's based on.  I believe that, like in a story premise, these premises should be designed to make each component interesting within the context of the whole.  I apply this idea to every character in the story, to every area in the environment, to every story scene, to every action the game character can perform, and so forth.  I don't always do this consciously, but I'm never satisfied until each of these can be described with a short blurb that makes that component compelling to work on.  The Incredibles is filled with characters who are based on interesting and interconnected premises:
  • A retired superhero longs for glory days
  • Superhero's superspouse wants to settle down
  • OCD boss of superhero can't accept breaks with protocol
  • Stalker-fanboy becomes supervillain
All of these premises are enough, as incomplete as they are, to inspire further story choices and drive design decisions.  I often have students pitch premises like "hero hiding a dark secret," "charismatic but evil bad guy," or "gorgeous girl who is insecure."  These are technically not bad premises, but they have been used so much that it will take lots of work to make them interesting.  So part of creating a good premise might be finding an original aspect to infuse the idea with.
So let's say you're assigned to do concept art for a goblin.  Without a deliberate search for premise, most artists (myself included) default to the most generic solutions: ugly face, green skin, fur boots, spare armor, feisty personality, etc.  I'm not saying generic goblins are bad, because in some cases the stereotype is the right choice.  But I'm trying to train myself to go generic as a last resort, because usually a more interesting premise that can drive the design is just around the corner.
No matter how ornate the armor is, he's still nothing new
This is where another aspect of good vs. bad premise comes in.
Honestly, I'm not sure if there is such thing as an inherently bad premise, with the exception of 2 rules:
1. Originality and interest are good
2. Unless those things mess up the story or alienate the audience*

So an unimportant character with a premise that requires screentime to explain is a bad thing.  Also bad: a main character that has an interesting premise but that is incompatible with the premise of the story.  And of course, if you're making a property for popular teenage girls, they will not be impressed with your mossy hobbit-hole tree world, no matter how rich with history the magical runes are.  The only (*)exception to the don't-alienate-your-audience rule is when a story beat requires something that the audience would be uncomfortable with.