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Darkness Revealed Update 15 - A Design Approach for Creating a Level's Art (Part 1)

Hello, everyone! How's it going?

In the last two updates, we showed how we build Art Kits that allow us to decorate a level, and what goes into it. Today we'll share the challenging process of creating the looks for the very first level that the player sees. Our first approach didn't work and we had to rethink the whole level art. It is interesting, as it illustrates how iteration really is an integral part of pretty much every aspect of game development. 

From nice thumbnail to ugly render

Because of the way we planned Last Dive's experience to fold out as you first play the game, we knew from the get go that our first level would have to feel bright and welcoming. We were very attracted to the idea of making it a coral reef, as it is a common scuba diving environment (feels familiar and not too threatening) and also because of all the beautiful colors they have. It was the perfect match for our first level. 

The corals started our like any other environment we work on. We created a thumbnail that captured the feeling we wanted that area to have. The colors seemed right and the light made the whole scene look warm and inviting.

By then, we had already rendered a level (the basic deep ocean setting that sets the stage for most of the story's first act), and while doing it we made a decision to use slightly blurry backgrounds, as it contributed a lot with the game's atmosphere. When we tried to render our corals thumbnail and 'port' it to this blurry BG aesthetics, it didn't work at first because the light settings were those of very clear and translucent waters, and because of that, the background wasn't looking like it was blurry because of the water in front of it - instead, it was just looking too blurry, period. We then tried to darken it to justify the blurriness, which basically destroyed our color palette and made the level ugly and unwelcoming. At some point, it became clear that it would be easier to remake it from scratch instead of trying to fix the original idea to make it work. It's part of the job, guys. Sometimes ideas work beautifully from concept to implementation, other times you just need to take a step back to be able to take two steps forward. While working on the version that didn't work, we ended up learning a lot about the task we had - color restrictions, lighting conditions versus desired blurriness, etc - so our next attempt was really straightforward.

Looking from another angle

For our next attempt, we searched for a bunch of scuba diving pictures until we found one that would be just right with some basic adjustments. We wanted the background to be single coloured, to avoid the trap that ruined our first attempt, and decided on a cyan light that should permeate the whole scene and make it feel like a clear day - and later on we would make the composition more interesting by adding colorful elements on the platform and foreground objects. 

Despite the crude look of our first montage, we felt that it was going on the right direction. We felt that this color scheme would allow us to remain consistent with our 'blurry background' decision without needing to make it dark to make sense. This is important, as this is an introductory level that aims to contrast with the oppressive darkness of the rest of the game. At this stage we also started playing with different ground tiles to see what would work and find a general idea of the other props that should feel this area.

That's it for today, guys! In the next update we'll show the rest of this creation process, as we work on the remaining rough spots to create a working render and finally put it in game!

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