Bring the Crew On-Board

The art and design of character concepting

· update,islands game,development

One of the elements we're most excited about with the islands game is the characters you're going to meet! Our narrative themes focus on friendship and found family, and as you'll be bringing crewmates on board your ship to help throughout the game, creating and writing compelling characters has been a big part of our narrative workflow.

We're currently looking at having seven crewmates who can join your quest, each with their own stories and personalities. We also wanted to turn the usual character ratios on their head and see more people like us and our friends in our game, so you'll find a diverse cast of characters here.

Today we'd like to introduce to two characters: Tempest, our player character, and Aurora, her first mate.

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Character concept art for Tempest, our player character.

Tempest is a determined young woman following in the footsteps of an old friend, to uncover the mystery they spent their lives searching for. Tempest arrives at the quiet little harbour town of Losslunan, where our game begins, armed with her adventurous spirit and the journal her friend leaves her. The journal contains tantalising information about a mysterious island and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to find a lost location and, rumour has it, treasure beyond belief.

Aurora is the first crewmate Tempest meets, and she helps you throughout the tutorial. Tempest meets her at Losslunan, and soon finds out she's nursing a broken heart, and ready to get back out onto the sea. Aurora is bisexual, and you'll learn this as you progress through her storyline. Bisexual representation in games isn't great at the moment: in most cases it either doesn't exist, or it happens accidentally and non-thoughtfully, like when a player character can have relationships with NPCs of various genders. Within society as a whole, we still struggle with issues of biphobia and bi-erasure, and having positive bisexual and biromantic representation is something very important to us as a studio, especially as Clockwork Raven co-founder Ashley is bisexual.

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Character concept art for Aurora, Tempest's first mate.

The process of character development in Clockwork Raven is done primarily by Samantha, our narrative designer, with input and feedback from Ashley, our game designer. It often starts with, using very correct and professional terminology, a vibe. Whether that's a personality trait, a secret, a defining moment, a photo or piece of art, most characters (espeically the crewmates, as they have deeper stories and backgrounds as other NPCs) will start off in this nebulous form.

The next step is to let ideas form (how?! I hear you howl in frustration. Samantha swears by daydreaming out of the window or walking her sausage dog, while Ashley goes for long hikes in the beautiful Montana outdoors) while bearing in mind gameplay and narrative need. This tends to solidify the character a little, give them a purpose and a position in the game.

From here, the next stage tends to be a visual phase: Samantha usually creates a moodboard for each character, and from there starts to jot down characteristics, physical attributes, and snippets of dialogue. The aim here is to flesh out the character in different dimensions, ready for low-level design.

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Early character moodboards for Tempest (top) and Aurora (bottom).

Clockwork Raven doesn't have an in-house artist (yet!), so we've been working with talented freelancers to create concept art to capture the early visual elements of our game. Cue Lina, a digital artist based in Scotland. Lina does a lot of work on indie games, and she's helped us with bringing Tempest and Aurora to life in the character concept sketches you see here.

We had a chat with Lina to see how she takes the early concept work Samantha does and turns them into visual ideas.

Hi Lina! Thanks for much for talking to us about character concepts and concept art! To start with, how do you tend to kick off the process for creating concept art for characters?

My work process always varies depending on the brief, but I like to start by looking at Pinterest. This way, I can gather images and make a collage of sorts. Doing this helps me stay inspired and provides a good starting point. Before I even turn on Photoshop where I do most of my work, I tend to get the basic shapes and ideas down on paper first. Once I'm happy with what I've got I'll move on to the digital side of things.

And how does the digital aspect of concept art work for you?

I tend to work on big canvas sizes, at least A3 format (300DPI) or larger. I would always say bigger is better, so long as your machine can handle it!

Next comes sketching. I tend to do this part in two stages. Really rough sketches first to establish shapes and anatomy and then a more refined sketch which I would then trace over and create the lineart. I would say that sketching is my favourite part of the whole journey.

I imagine sketching comes with a freedom of idea and movement as well, before you capture the final lines and start the colouring process. How do you decide what colours to use, and when do you know you're done?

When it comes to choosing colours, I kind of just go with my gut. It's a very intuitive thing for me. I just mess around with different colour combinations and palettes until I like what I see. Colour correction and enhancement tools also play a big role in my creative process.

And finally, what would your advice be to any aspiring game artists out there?

My advice to aspiring artists would be to always try and expand your visual library. Go see a movie. Go on a hiking trip. Read a novel. Skim through a fashion magazine. Anything! Everything surrounding us is a free source of inspiration! It's important to keep your brain stimulated, so that you have an easier time creating something out of nothing by pulling references from your mind vault.

You can find Lina - and more examples of her wonderful artwork - on Twitter.

That's about it from us this month!

We don't want to reveal too many of our characters too early, as we want you to meet them for the first time when you play the game, but there will be the odd sneak peek over the course of development. Make sure you subscribe below or follow us on Twitter for updates! We're especially excited for one very special character we'll be looking to the community to help us design...

Until then, fair winds and swift seas!