The Art of Stickman Epic
How do you design the artwork of a game that is all about drawing in such a way that will encourage anyone, of any age, with any level of artistic ability to be creative in their own way? Sound like an epic task? It was and here is how we went about accomplishing it.
I was hired as a 2D Animator to help bring characters to life that were designed and illustrated by Phil Williams the Project Lead on Draw a Stickman: Epic. Phil’s initial illustrations set the tone for the entire game. His drawings were full of personality and captured that child-like wonder of artistic creation that everyone can relate to. The stickman is a universal icon and Phil had done an exceptional job creating the beginnings of the world he inhabits for Epic.
As the project moved forward Phil’s expertise was needed in other areas of the game design and programming. I was given the responsibility of picking up most of the art where he had left off. Phil continued to guide the art direction and over all feel of the game. I wasn’t alone in this, my brother Craig also created some graphics as the need arose, and between the three of us the world of Epic began to take shape visually.
My artistic style needed a slight adjustment when creating sprites and tiles for Draw a Stickman: Epic. Typically I color inside of sharp, well defined lines, in contrast to Stickman’s world where the lines bleed off the page and the colors run together. For me it was like learning to draw with my left hand, which I did resort to upon occasion. On the other hand, we didn’t want our graphics to be sloppy, each loose line was drawn with intention and purpose.
The reason we chose to take the art of Stickman Epic in this direction was because we never wanted people to think they had to be a exceptional artists to enjoy our game. The average office worker could pick up Stickman Epic and find just as much value from it as the next Leonardo Da Vinci would.
We wanted the artwork that each player brought into the game to interact seamlessly with the world of Epic. Your stickman needs to feel like he belongs, and we worked hard to make sure that happened. Your personal stickman will walk around and interact with a world that was designed specifically for it, no matter what they look like.
This concept influenced nearly every area of the game, especially level design. Most mornings I would begin my day at a local coffee shop sketching out stickman ideas and concepts on my iPad then share them with Phil when I got to the office. We would brainstorm for an hour or so with Matt Bitner and work out the details of each puzzle.
We would begin designing each level by sketching out with pencil a rough map on a regular 8.5”x11” sheet of copy paper. We would imagine landscapes that might be fun to explore and puzzles that would make sense within that area. We wanted our players to use their imaginations and think outside the box.
We would try our best to put ourselves into the mind of the player and how someone might respond to playing through each particular puzzle. Talking through each puzzle allowed us to work out most of the kinks before we ever began building anything in-game. Once the level was fleshed out then we began play testing to iron out the remainder of the bugs.
During this intensive testing process it was common to find that some things needed to change in order to communicate a concept more clearly to the player. Sometimes a sprite needed tweaking, or the layout of the landscape needed to shift ever so slightly to account for the player’s movements. The visual style of the game played a crucial role in all of this.
Another decision we made was to eliminate the need for in-game text as much as possible. If something needed to be communicated about the mechanics of the game we would do so through visual clues. We tried to harken back to the days of gaming where game developers didn’t feel the need to hold each player’s hand. We wanted to equip the player with the tools necessary to play our game and then allow them the freedom to explore and play in their own style.
Exploration is key in Draw a Stickman: Epic! Part of the design process involved creating key areas in each level and designing creative ways to guide the player to those key areas without spoiling the fun of discovery. On the other hand, if we didn’t guide the player at all they would end up frustrated and lost, and that was the last thing we ever wanted. The artwork and animations played a key role in designing each puzzle in such a way that made them difficult, but not excruciatingly so. One of the ways we accomplished this was our use of color. We used colors sparingly in Draw a Stickman: Epic so when you do see a splash of color there is usually a very good reason for it.
Draw a Stickman: Epic was definitely the largest art intensive project I have had the pleasure of working on to date, and was an incredible learning experience for me personally. We hope that you enjoy playing Draw a Stickman: Epic as much as we enjoyed designing it.