In our minds, one of DBB’s biggest issues right now is that it looks kind of bland and generic at this point. The art is not bad, it just doesn’t have a specific and interesting style. Since we’re indies and we can do whatever we want, it’s kind of weird we weren’t pushing the graphical envelope.
Also, we’re sort of all over the place with what the story might be. Bones is chasing down his wife, who has gotten into some deep trouble somehow. There is a random spirit helping him (the player) who is somehow related. And no, the spirit is not his wife. We have some details here that we think are cool and fun, and a bit of dialogue written. But, just like the art style, it lacks a specific direction and most important it lacks impact.
So we’re looking at ways to improve both those issues. Step one is to turn this from a game with comic book cutscenes to a straight-up-diggity comic. The entire game takes place as a comic book story. Cool beans! And the main character isn’t some random spirit, but in fact is the animator. All this time we’ve been saying “you draw walls and jumps.” But now you literally draw walls and jumps.
The first step is to make the game look more like a comic book. We’ve decided to go drastic, and convert the entire game to halftone! So I wrote a nifty shader that does the work. Basically we want the game to look a lot like this classic Superman image:
It still needs a lot of work, but here’s some progress.
Black & White Halftone
The above was my first go. It only has black and white halftoning, and it has no outlines or anything. You can tell it’s pretty difficult to make out, but it’s getting somewhere! The way halftone works is that the screen is filled with a bunch of dots, and the brighter something is the smaller the dot is. Look at Bones there and you can see how the white of his shirt causes very small dots.
First Color Halftone
Here’s the first shot at color! Using dots that are Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow (because old comics used CMYK printers), we can combine them to roughly produce any color. I also added some black outlines using object geometry, because otherwise it can be very difficult to make things out. The obvious weakness here is that everything becomes kind of uniformly washed out, aside from stuff that is closer to cyan, magenta, or yellow. Now you understand why old comics so often had characters with bright red, blue, and yellow outfits! Getting complex colors out of an old CMYK printer is difficult. The browns and tans above all look kinda bleh.
I experimented by dropping a yellow-orange cube in to see how it looks. The result is a gorgeous looking effect, basically exactly what we’re looking for.
Green Wall Experiment
That led me to try out making the walls a solid teal-green color. I think they end up looking great. With some gradient-like details, they’ll look much better I think.
RGB substitution for CMYK
Next I decided to see how things would look if I used Red, Green, and Blue dots. These are the color components that computers use to represent every single color you see on your monitor (and are the primary colors of light). Unsurprisingly, the image looks significantly clearer. The big problem now, though, is that the nifty effect is lost – it just kind of feels like a crappy filter over a normal game.
If you look at cool modern comics like Sin City, they generally have a few colors that really pop because they are sparsely used elsewhere. I decided to try doing this with specific colors. Here is when black or close-to-black are rendered solid (not using halftone). It’s definitely a little heavy.
And here is when we exclude solid red. I like this much better, and it’s more in line with what classic comics looked like.
Excluding all CMY colors
Here is the final place we’re going to leave it for now. Anything that is close to one of the “primary” colors (that is, C, M, and Y, perhaps K (black) ) is excluded from the halftone. This makes the coins look particularly interesting because they stick out so much.
What do you guys think of this style?