The paradox of learning your way in the creative industry: creativity can't be taught, but we have a good point if we say it can be learned. In my lectures for young indie dev students, I always talk about how important it is to have a good cultural background in order to develop an appropriate game project. I often talk about the huge cultural heritage available out there today and its direct influence in games' level design and visuals.
ART HISTORY + PRACTICE = CREATIVITY
An artist's background
In this article, I'll focus on famous paintings and their influence in games. Anyway, a solid game artist background includes so many aspects of the art universe. It's good to know the basics about color theory, architecture, light properties, materials, gestalt, ink pigments, proportions, natural phenomena, etc.
The dream dimension
So, where do ideas come from?
Adaptation. Research. Visiting museums. Comic books. Art books. Famous artists' biographies. History. Mythology. Symbolism, magical arts, and so on…
I believe there's no such a thing like “I've just had an amazing idea!“ coming out of nowhere. Creativity is an infinite complex network of feelings, your past, your tastes, your cultural interests, etc. So, before starting a game project, or concepts, do research. Do a lot of research. Read a lot, play, dream and plan ahead. The plan is your guide, but for me, improvisation along the way is the best part of game designing (like a Picasso's painting session). No fear! Don't let the “blank white canvas” stop you.
Old masters’ paintings’ influences
Looking at art periods can be an infinite source of inspiration and study for a fantasy game design, color palette, narrative and much more. Some pictures from famous paintings come to my mind. The architecture, archways, platforms, ornaments - all of that depicted in gorgeous details. Games do a brilliant adaptation from antique to contemporary fantasy.
Let's take a look at “Old London Bridge“ and “Flint Castle” paintings by William Turner (1775-1851).
I believe the structures, colors and light effects from the painting can be a source of inspiration to the level design and art direction in games like God of War Ascension (SCE Santa Monica Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment).
The yellow, foggy atmosphere and boats in “Flint Castle” painting reminds me of Dante´s Inferno (Visceral Games, Electronic Arts) moments before our hero dies and challenges death.
Imagine you have to design a huge and frightening boss for your level…
We can look at Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) paintings. His work is known for its fantastic imagery, detailed landscapes, and illustrations of religious concepts and narratives.
Other great source of inspiration is the artwork of Symbolist painters like Gustave Moreau, Redon, Waterhouse and others.
The fantastic level art in Prince of Persia 2 - The Shadow and the Flame (Brøderbund) reminds me of Gustave Moreau´s (1826-1898) “The Apparition” painting.
Looking at the color palette in Rembrandt's (1606-1669) “Philosopher reading”, we can see the influence in the mesmerizing Dark Souls 3 (Bandai namco, From Software).
And we keep going on collecting sources of inspiration from Pop Art, Abstract Art, Minimalism, and so on.
For my last exploration/puzzle game STRUCTUS (Gigoia Studios), I was inspired by Minimalism and Land Art for creating the environments.
I had first seen this huge art installation in Texas by the artist Donald Judd, I got some inspiration from it and the I began experimenting with some structures, by putting some blocks around in an open desert with no story in mind. In a few hours, I was satisfied with the basic level design.
I could have stopped at that point and made the game into a “walk-simulator” just for fun. When putting colored lights inside the buildings, some ideas for the plot came up. As I love books about cyber-culture fiction, I kept wondering if the game could be set in some sort of a forgotten world built by ethereal AI. So I designed puzzle elements and developed a textless narrative.
From that point on, development ran smoothly because I had a goal. It was super fun to make this game and it took me 2 weeks to complete it. You can download STRUCTUS here for free.