The art of GAUNTLET: Slayer Edition

Hey everyone!

It’s me again, Rob, the Art Director for Gauntlet. We recently released our new and improved version of Gauntlet, entitled “Slayer Edition” and I thought I’d take a little bit of time to chat to you about the history of the art for the game; where we came from, where we ended up and why the “Slayer Edition” is the best version yet.

Let’s go back to the start of the project. We started off in a very different direction for art than what you saw in the release of the game. We have maintained some of our core references, however the overall style has shifted significantly.

Screenshot showing our painting-style shader

Right back at the beginning we put together a tech demo to demonstrate the art style we wanted the game to follow. It was heavily inspired by the paintings of fantasy masters such as Frank Frazetta. We developed shaders what would enable us to render the world as if it were a painting, blending between thick and loose brush strokes in areas that were of little importance, and high detail in the areas where the players would be focussed. This followed a similar pattern we found with the paintings we studied, as often the characters were painted in very high detail, whereas backgrounds and areas of less importance were looser.

Inspiration from Frank Frazetta

We spent a long weekend game-jamming as a small team to put together the tech demo and were very pleased with how it ended up. We showed it to Warner Bros and started moving forwards with the game, using the tech we had developed.

Early shot showing the old camera angle, and old style

As you can see from the shot above, things indeed looked very different from how they do now. We worked with this art style and over several months put together a vertical slice for the game. Over this time, we came across several problems that we fought against constantly:

The camera was set at an angle similar to that found in other action RPGs such as Diablo and Torchlight. This caused a problem with visibility of the player, as walls could often hide the characters. Due to the engine we were using, and the modular method of building rooms we had adopted, there was a lot of work needed in making the walls fade out when obscuring a player. Making this even worse, our levels were completely randomly generated, which meant there was no reliable way of knowing how the layout will look.

When using the shader from the tech demo, and applying it to the game, we focussed light and detail on the area where the players were. Surrounding areas were left dark and smudgy. This caused big problems when mixed with the fast, frantic, action filled gameplay that we were going for with Gauntlet. Enemies were hard to read, and due to the fast movement, the detail/low detail areas were constantly shifting, which looked terrible, and make the game awkward to play.

Tabletop environment model references

After struggling against the above problems we called a meeting and discussed what we would do. We decided to ditch the painterly art style in favour of something cleaner, using more loosely sculpted surfaces to mimic the brush-stroke style that we were after at the beginning, but without jeopardising the readability of the game. We drew more influences from table-top figure based games, and Games Workshop and their chunky construction to form the basis of our art style. We also decided to shift the camera. We looked at the original Gauntlet and experimented with placing the camera in a similar manner. Immediately the game felt more like a true Gauntlet sequel; and became far more readable in the process. The new camera stayed more or less the same from then until what is in the game now.

Gauntlet 2

We had a very small team over the majority of the production of Gauntlet, and a pretty short development time. These two points, combined with a change in art-style meant that we really did struggle with getting the game to a point we were happy with visually for the release last year. Although we had all the levels built, and all the pieces ready, we lacked the manpower and time to really bring the game up to the visual quality we wanted.
Over the last few months, we’ve put a lot of time and energy into all aspects of the game, improving visuals everywhere. A lot of love has been poured into the levels and you can see a couple of before and after shots below that demonstrate where we were, and what we’ve done for Gauntlet: Slayer Edition.

We’re so thankful we decided to take the time to improve upon what we released, and truly feel the version of game we released on August 11th really is the version we wanted to make.