|Looking bloody good|
Everyone's favorite wrist blade-wielding assassin has been in hiding since 2004's BloodRayne 2 and, along with pretty much everything else in the game, the developers decided to give the series' protagonist a fresh new look with its 2011 revamp.
According to WayForward's Creative Director and Betrayal Art Director Matt Bozon, the team had a distinct goal when setting out to design Rayne and her Gothic world of vampires and grotesque monstrosities. The look evolved a bit through development, but it ultimately stayed true to its dark, gritty roots.
The end result is something like a stylized moving comic book, making for one of the most eye-catching titles on the digital market to date.
You can't judge a game by its cover, but a stark, sleek aesthetic is certainly one way to grab everyone's attention in today's crowded games market. When the game happens to be pretty dang entertaining to boot, how good it looks is just a heaping helping of icing on the blood-soaked cake.
Beginning development two years ago, Bozon said he had a fairly solid idea of how he wanted Betrayal to look from the get-go.
"I wanted to try something very dark, inspired by four-color print graphic novels with copious amounts of black ink," he said. "We all wanted to advance our goals of great animation and over-the-top visuals, always in service to solid game design, and we needed a look that would complement the new 2D tech."
Bozon said the team found that look in some homegrown tech that would support their approach to layouts as well as dictate how the art could behave.
"From there, we searched for visual styles that would be a good match," he said. "Some things did evolve. For example, we started with traditional hand drawn animation frames, but later changed to silky smooth rigged animation."
This shift gave the game a fluidity Bozon said his team never expected.
When it comes to Betrayal's brutally beautiful heroine, Director Sean Velasco set the parameters, asking for an intelligent, more sophisticated Rayne.
"We played with animation styles, proportion, and did the usual design exercises," Bozon said. "But we also tried many takes on the character's identity in the world--as a hero, feral beast, sleek assassin, covert operative, stoic fighter--and even tried some period piece stuff."
The design publisher Majesco liked best, and which eventually became the new look for Rayne, was a combination of "black ops and cat suit," Bozon said, with color placement that recalls designs from her previous outings.
Take a gander at any screen from BloodRayne: Betrayal, and you'll likely be instantly drawn to all that lovely red peppered (or exploding) across the screen.
"For BloodRayne, I wanted to try some high contrast in the scene, which often meant lots of black so that Rayne's red hair and all the blood would show up," Bozon said. "We've got some deliberately gaudy 70's 'black light' colors in some of the later levels, which are meant to help recall classic game palettes and make the adventure feel wild and exciting, not always subdued. It's a castle of the undead, sure, but the journey has to be fun."
The art team set out to create what Bozon calls a colorized version of a black and white comic, but with a style that recalls four color printing rather than digital color. Inspired by the work of Mike Mignola, he said the character designs are a lot like what you might expect to find in an issue of "Hellboy." The most difficult of these characters to work on, Bozon said, where the hyper-detailed bosses.
"I've found with many games featuring giant bosses, it's a tug of war between rendering them as animation or as a background, since they have one foot planted in both worlds," Bozon said. "With the bosses in BloodRayne, our first approach didn't always work. So it took time and patience to evaluate the approach, throw it out, and try again to get the desired result."
All that work paid off, resulting in some truly memorable big baddies to slice and dice. Bozon said he's especially fond of the Crab Puncher, which is basically a wall-crawling collection of deadly Genzu knives seen early on.
"I only contributed a very rough sketch, so when I got to actually play against the guy it was incredible," he said. "That thing just shouldn't exist. A lot of developers would make it functional and then stop. This boss was taken to the point of being so cool it's stupid."
BloodRayne: Betrayal's art style was already turning heads when its first crop of screen shots started popping up earlier this year. But once the game hit the E3 floor, it became responsible for more than a few cases of whiplash. Receiving multiple Best of Show nods, the game garnered high praise for its eye-catching aesthetics.
"Maybe because it's got that rough look, it stands out against an industry filled with 3D games," Bozon offered. "The artwork has grain and scratches, and you can see the craftsmanship. I think people like to look at something, understand the moving parts and come to appreciate them. Then again, it could be all that red. Red is awesome."
Now that BloodRayne: Betrayal is available to the masses, Bozon said he is hoping those who pick up the controller and guide Rayne through her ballet of death will feel a similar satisfaction he and his team felt once the HD side-scrolling tech came together with the beautiful backgrounds and rigged 2D characters for the first time.
"I really hope this game helps players rediscover their love of hardcore platformers," Bozon said. "I also hope it drives home the message that not every game needs to push the same boundaries. As a company, WayForward is as proud of this game as we are entertained by it. We think you will be too."