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Diebrary » Diebrary Dev Blog Post #1

Diebrary Dev Blog Post #1 – The Journey of an Art Style (Part 1)

Hello newcomers! Hello Diebrarians! If you’ve ever been curious about the art pipeline in a game, I’m here to break that down for you. As the art lead of a tiny art team, there was no time for anyone to specialize in any one area. We faced some technical challenges, some problem solving, some heavy UI learning (we hope to see the fruits of this labor in game someday!) and overall a pretty smooth project pipeline as far as projects go! It wasn’t bad at all, honestly, but we’ll get into it!

(Some names have been changed for privacy reasons. My nickname is Shelbo so that is what I will be using!)

1. Tiny Team!

One of the best things about this project, in my opinion, was how big our team was. Some people have come and gone when work outside of our expertise were needed, but overall our core team stayed around 11 people! Three of those people were art, with the rest split between a design team, a code team and a QA team.

As art lead, my primary responsibility was to make sure I met with the code and design leads to discuss priorities on a bi-weekly basis, and then break that work out into manageable pieces to make sure our teams weren’t overburdened. With the exception of a few sweaty weekends, I am proud to say that we had little to no overtime work or crunch for the timeline of this project. Once meeting overhead was handled, I was able to take on any art tasks I had given myself. Oh! And we somehow managed to function without a producer. You know the code lead and the design lead I mentioned? Together we formed the “trenchcoat producer”, which was all of us in a trench coat, splitting up those responsibilities as they happened. I do not recommend this approach for larger projects but it worked perfectly for us 👍

2. Loot and Diebrary

When we first started production on Diebrary, I worked with another artist on assets. Part way through we gained a third artist. Both are superstars in my opinion, and you’ll be hearing from them later on!

Before we get into the nitty gritty, it is very important that I mention the game, another game our studio developed. It’s a 2D rogue-lite shooter that you can play in your browser. Some of you may have played it, and if you have you’ve probably noticed that both Loot and Diebrary share a lot of visual similarities. We wanted to see if we could make a game in 6 months and part of the strategy for making a game that fast was reusing assets. You’d think that we’d be able to cobble everything together and visually everything would look fine. We found that to be largely untrue! Cue us discovering that this would end up being a lot more work than we thought.

I spoke with the art director of our studio, Ben, and asked him about the beginnings of Loot and how they established the style. I joined the project about halfway through and eventually took over as lead, but the beginning is some history that I am missing.

Shelbo: “Do you have any notes on the visual style for Loot? What were you aiming for and how did you accomplish that?”

Ben: “The goal of Loot’s art style was to use super simple and readable shapes, similar to the style of Samurai Jack. Once you have a simple shape, you can make the style look a bit more `expensive` through lighting, glows, small particle details, etc. We wanted it to look more graphic than ‘cartoony’. Sharp angles, no outlines or rounded edges.

We also kept Loot to a strong color palette to make it rich and cohesive looking.”

“I’d say the art style evolved from then on due to a mixture of necessities from the game and skills other artists brought in. Looking back at initial art guides I think there’s always mixed emotions, ha. Mostly enjoying seeing how the style evolved for the positive, with some elements of wishing some things we would have adhered to more closely that just kind of got lost along the way. I think it’s definitely good to look back and reflect on initial goals after a project.”

Our art director then went on to discuss how different artists changed the style going forward.

“Kaylee’s draftsmanship definitely changed the style to be more detailed and less purposefully wonky and rudimentary, and this also evolved due to weapons in the game holding a lot more weight and people really wanting to have an item that was detailed and felt special, so I think overall this was a positive change.

I’d say the animation also evolved the style. The 2.5D stuff felt really good, and worked well with slightly more detailed characters as we moved a little bit further than the South Park cut-out feel.

I think the necessities of the game and what was important on screen meant we had to adjust our color priorities. In this case not necessarily worse, but different in expectations.

Liu’s concepting skills helped expand the feeling of the world. Liu is great at evoking a feeling and a sense of place, and elements from these concepts definitely filtered into the game assets to make the Loot world feel coherent.”

3. Current artists Shelbo, Cass and Elina!

Like what was mentioned before, both artists on my team are superstars! Both are great painters and have a range of experience with different types of work. Illustration, animation, UI, asset creation, marketing art, you name it! I wanted to get their input on some of the challenges they faced while working on our game. Currently Cass and myself are the only ones who worked on Loot. Elina has only worked on Diebrary so it should be interesting to see the differences in their answers!

Shelbo: “So, Cass, How did you find the experience working on Loot vs the experience of working on Diebrary? Are there any other areas of inspiration you pulled from on Diebrary (art style wise) that are different?”

Cass: “Loot being my first foray into the world of game dev after graduating, I was extremely open to new information and eager to pick up any tricks and/or tips from my team! I worked overtime when I didn’t need to, and that extra tiredness in hindsight clouded my judgment when it came to certain decisions. On Loot, I felt myself really trying to apply every bit of feedback from my superiors, without thinking if they all necessarily applied to or improved what I was working on.

Working on Diebrary happened after I had a year under my belt working on Loot. I spent my personal time developing my eye as an artist, and I can confidently say that I’ve grown a lot in ways that I feel are really valuable to a team as small as the Diebrary team! I now trust my decision making much more, as well as thoroughly think through any feedback I receive and how to apply it. Our team feels very open and incredibly supportive. No shame, no judgment, and no guilt trips!


Shelbo: “In general, where did you pull inspiration from while working on this game?”

Cass: “I absorb pretty well all visual information I can from any film or video game I indulge in. I gather a bunch of references for a mood board and make sure to stick to certain pillars of design for Diebrary that consider the scope and nature of the game (in no particular order): Strong and readable silhouettes, punchy colors, quirkiness.

I also felt the freedom to explore some different styles; I pulled inspiration from Enter the Gungeon, League of Legends, that classic WoW style, all topped off with a little bit of Sony Animation/Pixar vis dev work. I really wanted to ham up color use, silhouettes, and ideation.”

Elina: “I took much inspiration from action manga and manhwa I read (as I do usually), especially for visual effects and marketing art. I love bold and expressive VFX, so things I’ve painted and PFX you see in the game that are made by me may remind you of Solo Leveling, Ganz, Blame!. And of course I love adding some subtle references to those in Diebrary visuals.

I also play a lot of casual mobile games. Like a LOT of those. So clean and recognizable visuals of Cookie Run, Brawl Stars, as well as character animation from a bunch of cartoons I love like Zim, or Gravity Falls are a huge inspo for character/enemy animation I do for Diebrary as well.”

Shelbo: “What were your favorite things to work on for Diebrary? Are there any parts of the pipeline that you struggled with? (concepts, roughs, cleans, implementation, messing with code, etc)”

Elina: “I enjoy switching tasks in general, it feels like a more balanced and healthy way to work. I love to do illustration, animation, UI, everything and anything there is to game visuals essentially. But if we need specific examples my fav thing would probably be painting marketing-related art. Nothing better than knowing that something I’ve painted will be the first thing “greeting” the potential new Diebrary player.

I also enjoy creating VFX, like all those ka-booms, whooshes and pow-pows you see in games.”

Cass: “Favorites are always illustration work. Doing the library splash screen was a highlight for me, and getting to concept things and run through a bunch of different designs is always a blast! I find I grind down to a snail’s pace once it gets to animation + implementation and/or UI work, but my pace regarding those topics unfortunately depends on the day or how I’m feeling.”

Shelbo: “My background is in 2D/3D animation, so while I like doing other things like UI and asset creation, my preference is always going to be animating something! Spine makes it really easy, and if you have experience rigging in 3D you will enjoy this software as it combines the best of both worlds. We were also able to switch everything over to sprite sheets for this project, which is an interesting change from just exporting a .json from spine.

One other thing I wanted to mention is the art team was able to take more ownership over their assets being implemented in game. With some help from the code team and some well written guides, we became capable of setting up our assets or even changing what’s currently being called in code to something that we think is more visually appropriate. We ran our own branches locally, fixed bugs and tested things out before merging them. Doing this helped alleviate the burden on code, making it easier for them to concentrate on the code specific side of implementing visuals.”


This is the end of part 1. Thank you for taking the time to read. Part 2 talks about some more technical/art related challenges, so please make sure to read that as well when it comes out.

– Shelbo