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Darkness Revealed Update 14 - What makes an Art Kit?

Hello, everyone!

In our last update we started to explain what an Art Kit is and why it's important. Today, we'd like to show a bit of how our art kits are structured and explain each one of these layers and how they contribute to an environment's final mood. This update is a direct continuation of the last, so I suggest you read the previous update first in order to fully understand what an art kit is.

The main elements of our Art Kits

Here at Pixel Cows, we like to separate our art kits into different "categories" of assets. Each one of these categories represents a layer in the game view and contributes in a important way to the final outcome. Here are the main categories that we use to build the levels for Last Dive: 

Background Gradient: It's simple enough, but this is what defines the level's ambient light and fog. It tells us how dark that area will be and how far we'll be able to see into the horizon. It's also very important because it gives a visual context for all the other assets.

Base Topography and Background Elements:  These images are used to create all the landscape up to the horizon. We got a few layers of sand dunes (which are 'tileable', that is, can be placed seamlessly side by side in order to create an infinite landscape), plus big individual rocks and underwater creatures, which can be hand-placed (and programmed to move, in the case of the latter) to add variety and uniqueness to every screen

Platforms: This is used to create the actual game zone (we like to call it the "Game Layer", as this is where 99% of the actual gameplay happens). Before we can use the platforms in our engine, though, we have to convert each of them into a tilemap - a single image containing all combinations of ground, ceiling, walls and its respective edges. Our engine's level editor is then able to use the correct image at every part of the level to create seamless platforms. 

Platform Props: These are props that are used to embellish the Game Layer, such as algae, corals, stones, schools of fish, etc. They don't affect gameplay and so they are usually thought of as being slightly behind the Game Layer. They have much less contrast than their gameplay-affecting counterparts (such as collectibles, HP drops, enemies, etc), so that the player intuitively filters them out of his understanding of the gameplay.

Foreground: At last, we complete the area's decoration by placing more props in the foreground, or the layer closest to the camera. It's important that this doesn't block the player's view, so we have to be careful when placing it. The foreground's main purpose is to "frame" the scene and increase the level's sense of depth and tridimensionality.

Besides the assets that are simply exported as images, there are some other important details that greatly affect visuals, but are more akin to "special effects", and therefore need to be coded through a collaboration between artist and programmer. These include the water surface (which must be animated, have perspective and remain pixel-perfect regardless of depth), animated water particles, light shafts, etc. We also use a color tone filter that affects colouring and contrast (this is what produces the final image's bluish hue). Even though these effects are done inside the engine, we like to draw them into the Art Kit too, in order to give the programmer a clear art direction to follow when coding them.

That's it for today, guys! In the next update we'll show the creation process and final renders of Act 1's remaining environments!

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