The background as tool for narrative and suspense

When tailoring a game to make the player feel like a champion, you can’t just do it through a finely tuned challenged – you also need to create build-up. In Team Devourer we decided to convey feelings and mood through the use of mainly the background.
I our version we have different scenes that we use to build our narrative. These are: A sunny afternoon – used for the tutorial level.
A twilight dusk – used during the easier of our two levels. A night sky – used during the harder of our levels as well as a modified version for the bossfight.

A nice, sunny day is often associated with tranquility and the feeling of safety. That’s why it will be the brightest and with a more vibrant and lushous background. As I said earlier, this is where the player will learn the ropes of our game. There’s no real threat here and it’s also here where we introduce the narrative parts of the game – like the treasure hunting pirates and the Leviathian.
The colours and background objects also serves as contrast to later stages.

Dusk is often representing and associated with uncertainty and mystery, whilst also being a blurred line between the safety of the day and the dangers of the night. Seeing this is where you are first faced with both the Leviathan and forced to use the skills you was just thaught – beginning the ride up to the climactic finish (boss fight).
In the last stage you only saw a brief glimpse of the enemy so a new player won’t know what to face until the end of the stage and since the challenge of the waves rapdily increase, the players will also be more on edge and feel a bit threathend and stressed – two important factors in creating the feeling of challenge.

The night is commonly attributed to danger and makes a lot of people tense up. Since you’ve seen the Leviathan now, what it can do and now it’s out there hunting for you, keeping the player a little on the edge. The night sky adds to the atmopsheric doom and gloom. Another reason I wanted a night sky in the game is because it allows graphics to
stand out more, creating a more grandeour experience. The vegetation on the island is aslo a lot less visible and aren’t as lush as previous scenes.

Lastly we have a dawn. Emerging from the darkness into light. Granting the player as sigh of relief after the boss fight. The colours
are probably gonna conflict with the player avatar, which is why it will probably only be used in a cutscene at the end.
All of these scene shifts help to build a narrative with small intermissions between them as well as adding rising tension.

The iterative process for the background looked like this. From the second version forward, everything is made in 3840×1080 to help a little with the future parallex scrolling.
Background one

This is my favourite version of the background. It doesn’t work with our game however since the colours themselves are way to vibrant obscuring important info, like the player avatar, as well as having radical shifts between each field.
It also has a lot of texture wich would just be distracting for the player in the long run.

Background 2 wip
The second iteration of the background was remade from scratch. A big part of this one was trying to capture more of what an actual sunset looked like. With the shiftng colour hues of pale colours and warm colours of orange and blue. It has a little bit of rendering work put into it, but as you can see the brushstrokes are still way too visible, which doesn’t fit the artistic style that I was going for and it’s a detail that once again would distract the players.

Background 2 wip smudged
Based on the second iteration this version was created by heavy use of the smudge- and blur tool in an attempt to render most of the brushstrokes invisible. Which it does. It’s not even half-bad I’m still not that happy with it and I’m gonna probably redo it sometime before beta. Going for a better gradient between the colours. However during the playtesting we got a comment on the background being a bit hard to distinguish from what’s important.

The future backgrounds will have a better colour gradient picked out from the start as well as some more research put into them so that I, as an artist need to spend less time fixing the ineviatble mistakes that will occur.

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3 thoughts on “The background as tool for narrative and suspense

  1. Very interesting post! I feel like you divided your thoughts in a clean way using these different paragraphs, each having their own idea while still being related with the others. It makes the reading really pleasant and allows the reader to get a concise idea of what you are trying to tell through your post and your art.

    Grammatically speaking there is no mistakes I could see and overall I feel like you really tried to explain every design decision behind the art that you are presenting. By doing so and showing the reasons for the changes that took place, it makes it really clear to understand what kind of aesthetic you are trying to create for each part of the game, and how this will impact the player experience.

    All of that makes it clear that you have understood the MDA framework and that you try to apply it to the best of your ability into your game.

    Great work!

    -Mikael Ferroukhi

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  2. You’ve done a good job of going through all the design decisions you’ve made and motivated them accordingly. I understand what you are trying to accomplish, but I’m left a little bit wanting in terms of examples. I would’ve really liked to see you show a couple of color palettes to give me as a reader a better view of the color scheme of each level and setting. How I view a dusk or night fortunately lines up with how you view them, but giving clear examples would help you communicate what you are going for.

    I would’ve liked to see you expand a bit more on the process of how you created the different backgrounds. Especially I would’ve liked to hear exactly why it was your favorite. The other iterations are more fleshed out and explains your thought process better. As a criticism I would avoid using the blur and smudge tool to create the gradient of the sky. To me it now looks like objects that are out of focus, which is frustrating. I would instead recommend using a big soft brush in order the smooth out the edges and create a more natural looking gradient.

    Despite my criticism I still feel like this a well thought out post, good luck with the rest of the project.

    -Esbjörn Holmerin Nord

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