Sunday, August 17, 2014

Elysian Shadows: Interview with the Artists Part 1 (Patryk Kowalik)

Connor Linning, the ES team's musician, has all the music set to no-embeds, so have a video of one of his own OTHER songs! Check out his soundcloud account, or the playlist you can find on their Kickstarter page. It's actually really nice sounding. The game's main theme sounds great.

Part 2 of the interview, with Leandro Tokarevski, can be found here!

Hello, welcome to my brief foray into becoming a member of the gaming journalism press. Let's get to it.
Image taken from the Elysian Shadows Kickstarter page.
Travel through lush environments and diverse biomes, exploring a series of mysterious ruins, and discovering a world caught in constant conflict between magic and technology. Magic is a gift reserved for only the loyal followers of The Creator, while the non religious sects of society are forced to rely upon technology in their daily lives. Upon uncovering a mysterious artifact deep within one of the ancient ruins scattered throughout the land, Julien and friends find themselves thrust into the middle of this rising conflict. Can you solve the mystery of the ancient civilizations and prevent the destruction of your own?
Elysian Shadows is an indie 2D RPG being developed for Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, iOS, Ouya, and even the Sega Dreamcast (not even kidding). We fuse aspects of 16-bit classical RPGs with a highly stylized, modern vision by using dynamic lighting, physics, and audio engines along with swapping between 2D and 3D perspectives. Our goal is to create the "next-generation" of the 2D RPG in terms of gameplay, graphics, and audio. We want to reinvent and revitalize the aging genre for a new generation of platforms, while still remaining true to the 16-bit charm of the SNES and Genesis classics that we all grew up loving. 
Those are the opening blurbs of the Elysian Shadows Kickstarter, which has been going on for two-and-a-half weeks now. A friend of mine showed me their campaign, spurred on by their own love of the Dreamcast, and I had a bunch of interesting thoughts about it. Most importantly, I noticed the distinct appearance of the art. Here's a couple pictures to illustrate.
In-game captured GIF In-game screenshot
In-game screenshot

These are some in-game screenshots presented in the KS. So if you're a veteran of my Pixel Art Lessons, or if you're just a frequent pixel-artist yourself, you might notice some stuff. I did. I then talked about it a lot on twitter, like on three separate days for an hour each, which is a lot of talking. Most of it wasn't particularly favorable, though not mean-spirited, especially in light of both of the artists being relatively new to pixel art but also in light of the struggles of making assets for game development as opposed to gallery-style work.
I had so many thoughts that I decided I should just figure out more about how it works with them from the artists themselves! So I reached out to Falco and he put me in touch with Patryk, the lead artist. My questions have also been sent to Leandro, but he's on holiday with family in Italy right now, so I'll put up that second half of the interview later.
The format for the interview was I emailed a bunch of questions, received the answers, then fired off a couple follow up questions. For smoothness purposes I'll be integrating the follow-up questions where I they make sense to be.

The Logbook Project (tLBP): So let's start simple: who are you and what is your role in the Elysian Shadows team? I'm interested in general information as well as your history with regard to art, and specifically pixel art.
Patryk Kowalik (PK): I'm Patryk 'Imrooniel' Kowalik and I'm lead artist art ES team. Joined close to 3 years ago, initially as concept artist but when I saw that we're severely lack actual game assets I picked up pixel art. We all are wearing multiple hats, so I'm also writing a ton of lore and world building.

tLBP: What you think of pixel art as a new artist? I'm frequently involved with the teaching of relatively new artists, so how new pixellers start out and how they teach themselves or learn the craft is really interesting to me.
PK: I know I'll be stoned by pixel art purists for this answer, but it's just yet another category of art styles for me. Just like vector art, hand painted... But I think that's what allows me to come up and mix in new things like normalmapping - there's nothing sacred for me in pixel art, so I'm not afraid to experiment with it.

tLBP: Have you done any work outside of the assets for Elysian Shadows, whether elsewhere or more likely just for fun?
PK: Actually I've been freelancing artist for over past two years, since high-school. I've worked on quite a few projects - most of them never got finished unfortunately.
(here, my portfolios if you want: and

tLBP: What sort of programs do you use for making the assets for the game?
PK: Photoshop actually, I know it's not the best program for pixel art out there, but I've been using it for past 8 years and it works. Also Spritelamp to check out normalmaps.

tLBP: Can you tell me something about how the process works between you and with the rest of the members of the team?
PK: Well... I'm making a map, post progress as I go on forum and once I'm done with all the major points (ground, walls, and big structures) I give it up for our level designer for testing. Because we're using a lot of tile flipping and rotation, sometimes it is confusing to build out of the tilesheet at first sight, so that's a time to spot it and add any additional comments.

tLBP:I don't have experience with pixelling for game development, but I always hear about how restrictive the time crunch can be in creating the art. How much time do you reasonably take on a single asset (a background, a character and their animations, whatever)? Are you often forced to work with the first draft of a piece or do you get much chance to go and revise before moving on?
PK:Honestly, crunch is result of poor management and planning. So far we could work at our own pace, with only minor hiccup just before Kkickstarter - but that's because we were trying to get as much done as possible before KS. We're not corporate, so we don't have to bother the rigid structure and methodology: I have a general time-line as to what should be completed until when, but it's more of an approximation. So far we're ahead of the plan, that left me some extra time for RnD.
tLBP: It's also very encouraging to hear that you're ahead of the game when it comes to time management!
Patryk pointed me at their brand-new "Adventures In Graphic Design Chapter 1" which illustrates how SpriteLamp and pixelling for the game works, and it's on its own the most understandable explanation of how SpriteLamp works I've seen yet. Check it out here:
tLBP: How indicative of the game's look are the Kickstarter photos? I gather that the asset quality will continue to be upgraded, but is there anything style-wise that you think will change from the current look?
PK: Quite indicative. There are some things that can be easily tweaked - perspective, scaling, shaders... But the art style itself will remain pretty much the same. I'm actually trying out different approach as we speak - one where shading is entirely dictated by normal map and not colour map. The result should be similar to what we have now - after all, I'm quite fond of what we have, except all lighting will be dynamic - not just overlay cast shadows.

 tLBP: A big change to the way pixel art works in games comes from the lighting engine the game will be using, SpriteLamp. Can you tell me something about how that technology works and how it changes the creation of art assets?
In my own experience, a consistent lightsource is an important part of making a pixel piece seem cohesive. How do you make the base art that SpriteLamp will then work on while still trying to produce good assets on their own?
PK: Well, normalmapping works by changing the way surface's normals interact with dynamic lighting. With it, we can simulate a volume to some extent, by making it in pixel art style, we can have pixel art that dynamically reacts to light. I actually spent last 5 days painting normalmaps by hand and trying different approaches - I'm trying to balance how much details I'm putting into normal map and how much into colour map. Different shaders also drastically affect the way it all looks.
To be honest, it's not quite a pixelart any more. We're using a lot of techniques from 3d modelling, experience from traditional painting and illustration and apply it to pixelart. What's the result if not pixelart? I have no idea, probably something in-between everything.
tLBP: That's really interesting to me. It may not be pixel art in the purist's sense, but that doesn't really mean anything except to the medium's connoisseurs. Forging new ground with how pixel art is manipulated and what it can be capable of using other techniques is really interesting, and one of the things that most interests me about the game.

tLBP: The game is going to be run on a variety of systems. SpriteLamp is native to Windows, and has plans to work with Mac and Linux, but are there special considerations you need to accommodate for it to function on Dreamcast/Android/iOS? Should you reach the Xbox One/PS4/Wii U stretch goals I'd imagine those consoles are strong enough to handle it, but the relative power of the mobile OSs seems like it'd be an obstacle.
PK: Spritelamp is just a tool for normalmap generation. Just like Photoshop - it doesn't affect on which systems our game will be played.
But as for dynamic lighting - it all works on dreamcast. Today's mobile devices and consoles are little bit more powerful than that, so I don't think there will be any issues

tLBP: Still on the topic of the other operating systems, are you doing anything special to make it look great both at the small resolutions of mobile units as well as on large monitors or televisions with the PC/Mac/Linux/Dreamcast? Will it be a matter of scaling the assets, or some other solution?
PK: It's mostly scaling, and we're using "nearest neighbour" so there wont be any issue with pixel art.

tLBP: This is a long ways out, but about the Next-Gen+ stretch goal: will that high-end graphics setting be an entirely remade set of assets or just upgraded capabilities (physics etc)?
PK: Emm.... do you mean new-game+? That's just a different game mode...
tLBP: That was in reference to a different higher-up stretch goal - as the stretch goals are no longer visible on the KS page I don't recall what the dollar amount was. Regardless, it was so high that it seems very unlikely to occur, so the question is irrelevant at this point anyway.

tLBP: Do you see yourself continuing with pixel art as a medium when you're done with the game?
PK: Definitely. It remains a cheap and affordable art style (well, relatively to everything else), so devs will still request it. Plus, you know, if Elysian Shadows' reception is going to be good, then we're definitely making expansion ;)

I want to thank Patryk and the Elysian Shadows team for taking their time with me and for being so openly transparent in general with all of their development on the game. Their regular livestreams and extensive documentation on Youtube is really impressive and respectable. You can see the Adventures in Graphics Design video above, but you should check the rest out. Check out the rest of their Youtube channel here.

And once again, their Kickstarter is still going here. Come support these developers!

Part 2 to this Interview, with Leandro Tokarevski, will be posted once it's completed.
End Recording,

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