The Maze Knights Aesthetic
Maze Knights continues to evolve as a system, but today we’ll be looking at the look and feel of the game. It doesn’t have any art right now, but it does have a pinterest board if you want to see what it looks like in my head. Building this board has been very important to the game’s development, as I find it hard to work on a projects before I lock down the aesthetics. It gives me a more complete sense of the world, and ends up guiding a lot of my other decisions. As Skerples pointed out, making a good game is not so much making all the right decisions as it is making consistent decisions in the same direction. Aesthetics is the first decision I make. It also helps me narrow down artists I might be contacting in the future to do illustration work.
As I’ve been collecting images for Maze Knights, I’ve started seeing a pattern in the images I like.
Architecture and environments
- Verticality: Whether it’s a city, a building, a dungeon, or a wilderness scene, adding that extra dimension adds visual interest as well as tactical options and held energy. Balconies, staircases, trees houses, catwalks, elevators, ziplines, whatever. The Y axis is often exaggerated: roofs are too steep, buildings stack up and up impossibly, etc.
- Worn but Functional: Everything has a makeshift, ramshackle feel without feeling grim or apocalyptic. Architecture has a humanity and warmth to it. This is sometimes represented by things being slightly droopy or rounded, as if slowly succumbing to gravity. Lots of fine detail brings out the personality of the structures and adds interactivity.
- Isometric: Art where you can see most of the structure at a glance is great, especially when you can see paths and connections that let you visualize how you would move in, on and, around and between structures. Looking at the picture should inspire plans for escapes, break-ins, sieges, and ambushes. An isometric view also conveys way more information per square inch than a 2d map.
- Color: Maze Knights doesn’t have the survival horror or grimdark palette common in OSR games. It has more in common with Break!! in that regard. It’s going for excitement, engagement, brightness, and clarity.
- Strong silhouettes: Strong, distinctive silhouettes give it a videogamey feel. I like characters in Maze Knights to feel very tool-like, and clear, vivid design communicates their functions quickly.
- Variety: In most OSR games I play humans, and I wanted to break away from that here. The world of Maze Knights is a melting pot of thousands of stranded species from across the planes, so the gonzo is turned up to 11. I want to avoid typical demihumans like elves and dwarves, though. Your species should open up concrete gameable abilties; “lives a long time” or “sees in the dark” are too weak.
- Equipment: In true JRPG fashion, I like my characters laden down with potions, weapons, spellbooks, piecemeal armor, monster parts, and random junk. Not only does it reflect the item slot system, it communicates how important gear is in the game when it comes to problem solving.
The biggest single influence was probably Final Fantasy IX. It’s a game I’ve only started playing recently, but I had a copy of the Art of Final Fantasy IX as a young teen and the look of it stuck with me every since.
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