Development Log #1: Artistic decisions

This is the first part of a three-part series discussing the state of the game at present. You can read the second part about the gameplay here, and the third part about the narrative and themes here.

Introduction

‘What are you doing with your game?’ This is a question I have been asked a number of time recently, in more or less explicit variations. Especially after the fairly sudden and controversial Steam store page update I made a few months back, I think it’s a fairly decent question, and one that deserves to be asked. Although I created a Discord server some time ago to allow anybody to address immediate and pressing questions, it still seems many people are in the dark about the way things are going. Consequently, I have decided to start a public development blog, which I will be updating fairly frequently, on a more or less weekly basis.

This will be the first part of a three-part series discussing the various changes I’ve decided to make.

What’s with the name?

First off, what’s with the name? The current name of the game as it stands is Midnight Animal: A Story of Love and Forgetting. Some people who follow me on other platforms such as Facebook or Twitter may realise that I have since dropped the ‘Midnight Animal’ part, and have stopped referring it to that altogether: this is wholly intentional. Midnight Animal was for the longest time a working title that I was operating under in the earliest stages of development, and it was a name that unfortunately, I got stuck with through a combination of ignorance regarding marketing practices, and over-enthusiastic naivete regarding the future of my game. I never intended the title to remain Midnight Animal; however, by the time I realised my mistake, I felt it was already too late to change the title so drastically, especially with all the work that had gone into branding. I was caught between two radical identities: the one that I had been selling to the world and, for a long time, myself; and the one that I really wanted, but could not express until now. I was too weak to bridge the gap between one and the other, and could not find it within myself to really assert my own identity on my work.

That being said, I’m not particularly worried anymore.

First, getting rid of ‘Midnight Animal’ from the title is good because the title didn’t even have any context to the game’s narrative or themes anyways. It was purely an abstract term with absolutely no meaning or relevance, fit in only to serve the agenda of nostalgia and forced salience within a universe I no longer had any particular interest in exploring. By removing it as the dominant name in the title, I removed any dependency upon the name in terms of reinforcing it through my narrative artificially.

Second, getting rid of ‘Midnight Animal’ from the title is good because it dissociates the game even further from Hotline Miami. Now, bear in mind, I have nothing against Hotline Miami, and even less against Dennaton; they are, after all, the reason why any of this exists, and I have them to thank for that in bounds. However, I am not interested in exploring their universe, and I know that much for certain. That doesn’t mean that I’m criticising it in any way, or saying mine is better than theirs – far from it. It simply means that I don’t want my game to be associated canonically with theirs, out of respect for both their universe, and mine. This also seems to be in line with my audience as well, both the ones who hate my game and the ones who are interested in my game. Those who hate it can’t bear to stand something like this associated with a false and misleading title important to a canon that’s dear to them, and want it gone; those who are interest in the game also believe it to be false and misleading, and advise me that it hurts the validity of my own game’s canon and message with a meaningless title. I see great validity in both these claims.

Thus, the game is no longer called ‘Midnight Animal’.

So what’s it going to be called, then?

The game as it stands right now is just to be called ‘A Story of Love and Forgetting’. It’s summative, conclusive and all-embodying of the two most major themes of the game: love, in the sense of the deepest connections – or lack thereof – between people; and forgetting, or the erasure and sometimes rewriting of memory, and history. It’s also a reference to a book titled The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera, whose works bear great influence upon my game’s themes and narratives, with that book in particular having great significance in terms of similarities in themes of history and particularly what Kundera calls litost (I highly recommend reading it if you’re interested in reading).

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The game however will ultimately have another title, with ‘A Story of Love and Forgetting’ serving as a subtitle in a similar capacity as it functions at the moment. I have some ideas at the moment for what this new title will be; they however will not be made public until the title has been decided with finality, in the coming months. Until then, like I’ve stated before, the game will heretofore just be referred to as ‘A Story of Love and Forgetting’ in official documents, and ‘Love and Forgetting’ in casual conversation.

What’s with the changes to the art style?

This is one of the most controversial shifts people have taken issue with, but to me, it’s one of the most inexplicable things to get upset over. Rather than wasting time and space attempting to defend myself against people who won’t listen anyways, I’ll simply state my intentions with the art style moving forward, and offer some examples.

The primary influences for the art style are modern shōnen manga for the general UI elements, and specifically for the characters, the works of Shigenori Soejima, whose most notable works include his character artwork for the Persona series (more on this later).

My goal with the UI is to create an interface experience that is stylish, dynamic and impactful, which communicates simultaneously a sense of urgency and kinesis. Much of the UI is highly stylised, taking on a strictly black-and-white ink-splattered appearance heavily inspired by manga, with bold yellow streaks accentuating the black and white. You can see examples of it here (note that these are works in progress, and subject to change):

As for the characters, as I’ve stated before, I’ve chosen the influence of Shigenori Soejima, who is distinguished for his works on the Persona games. Most notably, his most recent product is Persona 5, which released in the west just a month ago to universal acclaim. Many have drawn comparisons between Persona 5‘s art style, and the art style of my game; I would be a fool to not admit that I was very inspired by it when I was designing both the characters and the interface. I however have seen some accusations that the characters I am making are nothing more than ‘ripoffs’ or ‘bargain bin Persona’ characters, which deeply sadden for a number of reasons. However, I won’t dwell on this comparison much, and will simply refer anyone who seeks to accuse me of ‘stealing’ ideas or designs from Persona to Yandere Dev’s excellent post about the exact same subject.

Regarding the actual character designs themselves, I’ve elected to replace the older full-body sprites which were closer to Hotline Miami‘s art style with portrait images based off of Soejima’s work in Persona 5. This change occurred for two major reasons.

First, I felt that the full body sprites were inadequate for capturing the range and breadth of emotional expressions which I needed for the game. Given the incredibly limited economy of pixels allocated for facial expressions in the older style, combined with the awkward bodies made redundant by in-game animations, I felt that moving towards a more portrait-oriented style would result in much more effective presentation. When searching for influences, I came across Persona 5, which presented its characters in a way that was both emotionally dynamic and highly stylish. It was a uniquely satisfying style which I was certain worked, and I have adapted it to my own standards hoping it will achieve similar effect.

Second, as I’ve stated before, the older art style was much closer to Hotline Miami‘s. The further I distanced myself from Hotline Miami, the less people would have to complain about. There’s not much more I have to say in way of this that hasn’t already been said before, so I’ll just leave it at that.

In the mean time, in case you haven’t seen them already, here are some screenshots of the current dialogue system as it stands right now:

In terms of the overall art style, I’ve seen a good number of people describe its tone as ‘gritty’ or ‘dark’, but I would tend to disagree with these assessments, at least in the way they’re used whenever I see them. I would describe the art style more as focusing on being ‘bold’ rather than being ‘gritty’; grit to me suggests a sort of graininess and dirtiness, a lack of fidelity – in short, exactly the opposite of what I want the art style to be very high-fidelity, and relatively crisp despite the subject matter and content; nothing bleeds through, everything is clear and clean: the lines do not curve, the ink does not smudge, the splatters do not bleed through. The world of the game is one presented in stark, bold fidelity, and I want the art style to communicate that same sense of sharpness and confidence; it is noir, but noir where the harshest lights cast the deepest shadows, and where there is little ambiguity in between.

Conclusion

That’s all I really have for today. Tomorrow, I’ll be writing and releasing the second part of this series, which will cover the gameplay design, and changes I’ve made to that. You can also read the third part about narrative and themes here. In the mean time, thank you for reading. Have a nice day.

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4 thoughts on “Development Log #1: Artistic decisions

  1. Hey there! I don’t intend to be rude or poke fun at the art style or anything. but John’s in-game sprite looks like he is wearing a balaclava. Like the one that the son wears in Hotline Miami 2 in the mission Blood Money. I could be the only one who sees that, and it’s ultimately Spencer’s decision whether or not he wants to change it. But i felt that i should reach out and see if anyone else felt the same way. Let me know.

    ~Nate

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