Developer Blog: Getting the Graphics Right

Posted on 28th Jul 2010 at 09:00 by Mode 7 with 5 comments

Last time I talked about Annoying Wonky Triangle Wars, the original Frozen Synapse prototype.

Well, while Ian was struggling to get the game playing well, I was struggling to come up with a look for the game. To give ourselves something to aim for, we commissioned some concept art.

Here is the first concept art that was ever done for Frozen Synapse.

Developer Blog: Getting the Graphics Right
The first concept art for Frozen Synapse

As you can see, we tried to cram a lot of ideas into a very small space! The original concept was to create a look that combined realistic rooms with an abstract ‘overlay’; trying to capture that infiltration vibe from various movies. We got some way towards achieving this look, but it quickly became apparent that we were both unable to do justice to the idea with our technology and that the result was a bit too cluttered.

That said, some things were implemented - we even had little 2D soldiers running around, for example. In the end though, we weren't satisfied with the boldness and immediacy of the visuals, so we went for a second concept.

Developer Blog: Getting the Graphics Right
Later concept art for Frozen Synapse moved closer to the current look

Here, we're very close to the final look of the game. We originally asked the artist for 2D walls, but he ignored us and went for 3D anyway. This was obviously the right decision, so we ended up messing around with the renderer to enable 3D walls and characters, but still having everything essentially based on 2D geometry. This definitely introduced more of that elusive “pop”!

Frozen Synapse has always been about the most abstract notion of tactics. We thought that his look was a bit more “computery” and was more suited to the subject matter, nailing the technical feel we wanted.

I read recently that the creator of 1982 vertically-scrolling shooter Xevious wrote an entire novel of backstory for his game. That's not quite the case with Frozen Synapse, but I did end up writing a kind of narrative “bible”, comprising a lot of stuff about the game world. That's all implied at the moment and we have no idea how much of that will make it into the more story-driven singleplayer campaign, but it certainly helped me come up with a strong visual.

No questions to answer from last week, so my job is a lot easier this time around! Don't hesitate to leave a comment if there's anything you want to ask about the game.

Paul Taylor is the Joint Managing Director of Mode 7 Games, makers of Frozen Synapse.


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CardJoe 28th July 2010, 09:07 Quote
Actually, I've got a question. I'm interested how you designed the UI specifically. The conceptual UI from the later art above looks quite functional, so it would be interesting to know how and why you moved away from it?
PaulMode7 28th July 2010, 10:07 Quote
It's one of those things that looks great but when you try it it's *absolutely* terrible. We had the current list-based orders menu, and converted it over to this to play with. It just felt really messy and horrible; also we'd already had good feedback from testers on how easy the current menu was to use, so we thought we'd stick with it.

In the current beta, it's one of the worst-looking in-game elements, so it still needs a lot of visual tweaking, but functionally, it's just better.
Cabe6403 28th July 2010, 12:25 Quote
Hi Paul,

Another great blog. I'm really enjoying seeing some of the pieces behind the puzzle. I've one quick question but it's not actually related to Frozen Synapse per say, so feel free not to answer if you'd rather not.

What is your educational background? i.e. What (if any) degree(s) do you have?
Sifter3000 28th July 2010, 13:04 Quote
I'd be interested to know how you make the choice between flashiness and function when it comes to the UI (and graphics) - obviously you need it to be functional, but at the same time, especially as an indie game, I would imagine a degree of flashiness is required to attract interest from players?
bennyjh 28th July 2010, 16:03 Quote
Do you have a dev log for the game, id like to subscribe.
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