The Murder on Hemlock drive is a game based around one of my loves, 1800s and 1900s detective novels. To make it feel like it was in that world, I wanted to mimic the style of newspaper lithographs that would have kept track of police procedurals of the time. To get the style that I wanted, I brought on a local Cincinnati-based artist, Evan Verrelli. Through our collaboration, we added some inspiration from 1930s and 40s comic book illustration and 1800s impressionism to come up with the final art style.
I chose Evan to create this world because his style matches my goals. To me, his work embodied the exactitude that would be needed to make this world look the way I wanted. Give him a follow on @evan.is.social to see why.
The process was fairly simple. First, Evan and I traded mood boards to determine the vibe of the final piece. Then, Evan created several concept designs for each character and object. I took a look at the selection he gave me and chose the one I thought would best set the game.
For example, the main character:
The brief for this character was a young person, having just graduated from college, who lives in downtown Cincinnati around the turn of the century. They are in the early stages of a somewhat academic career, such as engineering or medicine. This character would have the skills necessary to become a detective, but they have not yet had to use their skills in that way.
Out of the characters Evan submitted, I chose “Concept 3” as the design I wanted to go with. I liked that interpretation of of the brief, and I enjoyed the character’s androgyny, which could appeal to more players. However, I wanted to add some elements, like a hat and earrings, that gave the character more personality.
Evan also did concept art for the background of the piece, but that worked a bit differently. I created a 3D model of the train station level to test game mechanics. That 3D model provided the framework for the illustration that Evan created. Originally, Evan created a concept that was more in line with a traditional Victorian style of deep reds or deep browns. However, this caused the characters to blend into the environment. We thought about implementing atmospheric perspective, which is a technique of changing the color values and clarity of the background as it recedes from the viewer (think mountain range receding into the distance), but I looked into other video games and found one called Cozy Grove that had a better solution.
Cozy Grove is a game about crafting, camping and soothing the local ghosts. This game includes a hand drawn art style and characters of color. The way that they have their characters stand out from the background is to mute and brighten their color palate while keeping the characters dense with black outlines.
We took this concept and changed the whole color palate of the background to what you see now, an image that focuses a lot more on yellows as its focal point and subdued greens and blues as an accent. This paired with black outlines around the characters allowed the characters to pop off the screen instead of being swallowed up.
Finally, Evan created the final line work for the characters and their backgrounds as well as animations. These all turned out quite nice and I’m very thankful to have Evan on my team while making this game.
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