Transistor

Welcome to our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans, nagging questions, and whatever else we feel like talking about. No matter what the topic, we invite everyone in the comments to tell us: What Are You Playing This Weekend?

I suspect there’s going to be an awful lot of Bloodborne played this weekend, but not by me. I’m a poor practitioner of the Demon’s/Dark Souls-style of gaming by attrition. That’s a shame, because I’ve always been impressed with the art direction in FromSoftware’s Keep Dying/Keep Trying family of games.

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“Medicine,” from Gustav Klimt’s University Of Vienna ceiling paintings

Fortunately, there are plenty of beautiful games that have a gentler difficulty curve for more tender players like me. Two that I’ve been enjoying recently are Transistor and Child Of Light, both of which I purchased during Steam’s unofficial “red-headed female protagonist sale.” While I haven’t made it far enough in either to form a critical response, it’s been a pleasure to play two different games with such distinct art styles.

Transistor shares a lot of structural similarities to its predecessor, Bastion, but so far improves on all of them—especially visually. While Bastion’s patchwork fantasy world is skillfully rendered, Transistor is something else entirely. It blends Gustav Klimt’s severe figures and cascading textures with floral art-nouveau elements on a Tron-like circuit board landscape. Bringing together this many diverse influences could make for a visual mess, but Transistor combines them seamlessly into a world of soft, luminescent greens and golds with hard splashes of malevolent red for stark contrast.

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Child Of Light

Child Of Light’s influences are not nearly as diverse, but the art direction is equally confident. Fittingly, for a game about a young princess whose deathly illness sends her into a magical dream world, it has a classic fairy tale look, with pen outlines and broad diffuse watercolor washes that evokes Arthur Rackham, a 19th century British illustrator. Objects and shapes on the horizon are lost under layers of obscuring brushstrokes, which reinforces the game’s hazy, half-awake atmosphere.

“Meeting Of Oberon And Titania” by Arthur Rackham

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Both of these games are relatively modest and download-only, as most visually daring projects tend to be these days. There are plenty of reasons for that. A distinct look helps to stand out among the sea of independent releases and can compensate for having a smaller budget. And a smaller game faces less pressure from a big publisher to deliver a product with the broadest appeal and can therefore experiment with more esoteric art direction. It would be nice to see larger titles leverage their massive budget toward visual styles other than photo-realistic fidelity, but that’s not likely to change anytime soon, so I do appreciate it when big-budget games incorporate different design sensibilities in the margins—either through stylized cutscenes or collectibles. For instance, my favorite visual element in Dragon Age: Inquisition is the Symbolist-style tarot cards you get for each character.

So I’d like to ask, Gameologerinos, are there any art styles you’d like to see represented in a game? And what do you enjoy about the art direction in whatever it is you’re playing this weekend?