The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency Discusses Crafting Drawn to Death's Unique Art Style
In an interview with Gamasutra, Steve Merghart, art director at The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency discussed how Drawn to Death’s unique art style was crafted.
First, he mentioned how Drawn to Death originally started as a shooter featuring stick figures, but evolved to what we see today as the gameplay and weapons evolved.
“The game was originally envisioned as a stick figure shooter, and was always intended to have a very rough, hand drawn look that could incorporate whatever bizarre and creative ideas that the ‘artist’ came up with. But as the gameplay and weapons evolved, so did our idea of the artist; eventually we settled on a high school kid who was extremely creative but not terribly skilled artistically. In the game, when a player summons ‘the Hand’ for a super powered attack, it’s that artist’s hand that appears.
Production art had a different set of problems to overcome, as our original goal was for the game to have an actively scribbly look to it as if it was constantly being redrawn. From double and even triple texture maps that would cycle to give the characters a very animated look to complex toon shaders that would draw and re-draw the scene for that squiggly look. Environments added a new twist as we initially wanted the game to appear as if it was taking place on a piece of lined notebook paper, flattened out and with no lighting. We quickly learned that so much white on the screen was giving people headaches, so we began looking for a lighting scheme that would make our 3D environment fit our highly stylized vision. We settled on a very controlled set of environment textures where the mip maps are actually individually drawn, and the shadows are built from layers of scribbled textures.””
Next, Steve talked about more of the inspiration behind the art style, and what he imagines “the artist” in the game is using to draw.
“We all remember that classmate that would draw in class all day, filling their notebook with amazing doodles even if they weren’t very well executed. A lot of us actually remember being that kid, which is why the art style seems to ring so true for so many players. As far as our ‘medium’ is concerned, we tried very hard to make it look as if the notebook doodles simply come to life exactly as drawn on the page. So in essence, they are made of mostly ballpoint pen scribbles.
We envisioned that the kid had a couple of different colored ballpoint pens, mostly blue and black, but also a red one and maybe a green one. For real splashes of color, it’s not a stretch to imagine that he also had a couple of highlighter pens in the backpack. We intentionally limited the artist’s art supplies because from a narrative point of view we didn’t want this kid to come off as very artistically talented. “
It was actually challenging to stay consistent with Drawn to Death’s art style, so he delved a bit more into what the game’s artists did to make sure everything looked consistent.
“We initially joked about simply hiring high school students to draw all the art, but the technical requirements for making reliable and consistent game art quickly ruled that out. The one thing we need to be able to do when making this game is replicate the artist’s art style over and over and over. Creating art for a 3D action game that is intended to look badly drawn by one specific artist is surprisingly hard to do!
It’s a bit like needing someone to sing a song very badly, but in exactly the same way for every showing of a Broadway musical. You end up needing an extremely talented singer with amazing vocal control, which is essentially how we’ve staffed our art team: A small team of amazing artists with an amazing range of art style control. From the concept artists, to the modelers, to the VFX artists, to the animators, everyone is able to put aside their individual styles and channel the angst-ridden musings of this creative high school kid. “
Afterwards, Steve Merghart mentioned how he was happy that some of the more off-the-wall concepts made it into the game.
“It’s been extremely amusing and gratifying to watch some of the crazier concept designs inspire some truly off the wall weapons and abilities. We have a monkey that rides on your back literally throwing poop at your enemies, a coffin that catapults out a fat, bloated, exploding corpse, and a shark-headed ninja that summons smaller explosive sharks to wreak havoc on the battlefield! Ultimately, limitations of the engine ruled out some of the more ambitious methods, but Drawn to Death still holds true to the creative director’s vision.”
Drawn to Death is now available on PS4, and is currently free with PS Plus. DualShockers gave the game a 7.5 in our review, stating “In the finished product lies a blueprint for a great game, but mediocre shooting mechanics and a slightly shallow level of content holds back Drawn to Death in the end.”