We’ve got lots of things to talk about in this update about our new art style!
The New Art Style
We know a lot of people were surprised by the upgraded art style in Outer Wilds, so here’s our Art Director, Wesley Martin, with a little more information on what’s been going on behind the scenes.
Welcome to the new and improved Outer Wilds! We spent a lot of time refining and iterating on our art style to create this new direction that is better for performance and game design, while still retaining the charm of the original Alpha. As we get closer to release, we can give you some sneak peeks into the different places you’ll visit, but for now I’d like to talk about the fundamentals of what we changed and why we changed it.
When we first started on full production of Outer Wilds at Mobius, our original art style was inspired by early American plein air painters. We chose the old style because it was simplified, but still felt naturalistic, which allowed our small art team to build out the game at a consistent level of detail. As we worked on taking the designers’ greybox level designs and brought them forward to final art, we ran into a number of challenges that our painterly art style didn’t handle well.
First, level designs in Outer Wilds require a lot of precision in 3D space with intersecting ramps and tunnels scattered across the differently sized planets of the solar system. Making such complex level designs on the small, spherical planets of Outer Wilds proved to be very challenging, and didn’t mesh well with our painterly art style. Second, it was difficult to strike a balance between small level detail seen on foot and large-scale vistas seen from space without the expensive cost of hand-crafting multiple versions for different scales. Finally, our approach made it difficult to tune level design after our final art pass, which made it difficult to iterate based on playtest feedback.
Working with Annapurna, we tested a variety of approaches from higher detail and more realistic to stylized and cartoony. We eventually found a solution in the graphic simplicity of national park posters, which not only felt true to the naturalistic feel of the Outer Wilds’ Alpha, but fixed a number of our production problems. By creating geometry with sharp, stylized shapes, we were able to clearly define walkable surfaces for players and adhere more closely to the design greyboxes. By using simplified textures with large-scale gradients, we were able to create a sense of depth and make the planets look good while on foot and from afar. In addition, because we had spent time iterating on the art style, the design team had time to dramatically improve the level design throughout the game before our new final art pass.
This new art style works much better for design and performance, and matches our original aesthetic goals better than anything else we have tried. While developing the art style, our tech team created a number of useful tools that help with building spherical environments, and with Annapurna’s support we were able to expand our art team to meet the increased time cost of making this more detailed style. We’re very excited to finally show the new art style, and we hope it makes you excited to play the game!
Outer Wilds will be at PAX East next week. If you’re going, you can stop by and play the game!
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