At bitSmith Games we like to think of Kú as having a bit of a unique visual style. We've worked really hard on this to try and make something people will like to look at and appreciate! This gives us a unique problem. As the artist on Kú, I need to try to be as consistent and on top of the art quality as much as possible. However, being a relatively new artist, I'm constantly learning more and more and trying to get better each day. This means assets built a long time ago, especially before our trip to GDC (which taught us so much) sometimes do not make the cut for the current visual standard of the game - I've had to remake many of the assets, and many many more have been cut entirely as not being up to scratch!
For example, take a look at these before and after shots. This is the same room, but we think the newer version is much more suited to the overall look of the game!
The improvements are all a mix of improved level design, improved assets and a lighting pass that I'll expand on. The less cluttered look of the second screen not only increases the visual impact of the centre-piece of the room, it also has the practical function of allowing more space for combat manoeuvres.
One of the massive visual changes we think has made a huge difference is our special, one-of-a-kind, patented, super-high-tech lighting engine :D . Our lighting engine is extremely simple. Its essentially an overlay of dark areas that do not cover the areas that should have light shining or glowing in/on them. Its like painting using shadows! Below is an early concept testing out the idea.
With a smooth gradient, this trick does a surprisingly convincing job of simulating lighting. Its not foolproof - we have to remember to limit the contrast between areas, or we'd get bits where Kú's hair is in shadow but his feet are brightly lit, which just looks weird..
However, it adds a surprising amount of atmosphere to an area. When painting or drawing, one of the things the experts always emphasise is lighting. If you get the lighting right, it can be one of the strongest visual effects in a piece. Below is a picture of an area without a lighting pass.
It's not too bad, the assets look alright next to each other and the scene is coherent. However, it feels a little bit flat. The lighting levels are too similar. But when we add a lighting pass, the scene takes on a little more life, as seen below.
We think there is a vast improvement in the second scene! We can even add in "light" - when Kú passes under the lightshaft seen in the picture, he seems to brighten up - again, its just a simple overlay! Light overlaying is a bit more difficult, however, as it can draw a lot of contrast away from a scene, so we try to limit its use.
So we're currently in the process of updating all our scenes to include lighting and assets, while adding in a few things here and there - stay tuned for more, and for any questions regarding this or any other topic, yell at us on our Facebook page or on Twitter, where all of us check in regularly!