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Topic: Thoughts on art direction

HendrikL
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Joined: 2017-10-09, 13:07
Posts: 15
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Pry about Widelands
Posted at: 2020-11-08, 15:44

Hey there folks!

So two years ago I started some tests using global illumination for rendering Widelands buildings. I also had a look at the renderings scripts, thought about high resolution renderings for widelands and some other topics. The main challenge for high resolution graphics would be to find a solution, that works for you guys in my absence, or rather a solution that anyone can work on. I got some ideas for that, but that is not what I want to address right now.

The problem I have is that something turns me off about Widelands current graphics, that I could not pinpoint a long time. I think the graphics itself are well made and look good, but when put together they are lacking something.

I want to propose, that Widelands main issue with the current graphics is a lack of readability, or visual clarity.
I want to show you how I came to this conclusion, open some general discussions about art direction and point to a possible solution.

Since I am not a game designer and I also know very little about art direction I first wanted to know how similar games of the genre set their "mood". So I took a screenshot from Widelands, my favorite games from the Settler series and tried to make Widelands graphics match as closely as possible with those colors/values as I could.


Widelands colors and values adjusted to match Settlers I, II, III

I was very surprised to find that the color palette makes up a large part of the mood of the game. For example Settlers III always gave me that mediterranean, warm feeling that other games failed to replicate, which is present in my edited version of the Widelands screenshot. I then proceeded to desaturate the screenshots based on luminance, which is the perceived brightness of the color.


Edited versions desaturated by luminance

Notice how the elements in Widelands are hard to distinguish from each other and visually blend into each other. All edited versions are far better readable because of two differences:
1. The objects and terrain in all three versions have a fairly large difference in value with settlers III being the least strong one
2. The Terrain generally has a lower contrast than the game elements placed on it.


After that I did a comparison of all games of this genre I could think of, to get a wider comparison.


Comparison of different games color pallets and contrast values

As you can notice Widelands fits in there pretty well, being most similar to Settlers II of course. But its readability is far worse than all other games except maybe Settlers IV. The latter one not only improved the asset resolution compared to Settlers III but also tried to introduce some fancy shading on the terrain to look as polished as possible. The high contrast of the textures combined with the dithered shadows on hills and dents makes Settlers IV relatively hard on the eyes.
So after discovering this I tried to 'fix' the readability issues I see with Widelands:
1. Slightly reduce the contrast on terrain textures
2. Slightly increase the contrast of the game elements placed on it
3. I also increased the strength of cast shadows and made them a bit softer
The value differences between the game elements and the terrain are already decent in almost all maps, I explicitly took this one as the strongest example.


Original screenshot and contrast corrected version

And as I hope you can see the differences are extremely subtle, but result in a far, far better readability of the right image, resulting in the assets standing out and being better visible without changing the current assets too much.

Please let me know which remarks you have and how your opinion on this topic is. I have all the values I tweaked noted, the distance and amount of the sharpening, shadow strength etc. This is deterministic so in theory the existing scripts can be modified or a new script can be written to convert the current assets in bulk.

Thank you for your time and dedication
Kind regards
Hendrik

Edited: 2020-11-08, 16:00

Attachment: 00_colorsAndContrast.jpg (1.4 MB)

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HendrikL
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Joined: 2017-10-09, 13:07
Posts: 15
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Pry about Widelands
Posted at: 2020-11-08, 15:57

(image2)


Attachment: 01_luminance.jpg (212.6 KB)

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HendrikL
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Joined: 2017-10-09, 13:07
Posts: 15
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Pry about Widelands
Posted at: 2020-11-08, 15:58

(image3)


Attachment: 02_artDirection.jpg (852.0 KB)

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HendrikL
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Joined: 2017-10-09, 13:07
Posts: 15
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Pry about Widelands
Posted at: 2020-11-08, 16:00

(image4) I am so sorry for Multiposting, but I could not find another way to upload multiple images per post to do the short essay above!


Attachment: 03_contrastCorrection.jpg (762.3 KB)

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WorldSavior
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Joined: 2016-10-15, 04:10
Posts: 1836
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Location: North of Germany
Posted at: 2020-11-08, 16:16

I think that "Widelands contrast corrected" looks much better. Very nice!


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hessenfarmer
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Joined: 2014-12-11, 23:16
Posts: 1607
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Location: Bavaria
Posted at: 2020-11-08, 19:17

Hi, I think thi is well spotted, well analyzed and well explained on top. Many thanks

+1 for the contrast corrected one


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niektory
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Joined: 2019-06-03, 20:06
Posts: 186
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Widelands-Forum-Junkie
Location: Poland
Posted at: 2020-11-09, 01:54

Your screenshot shows an old version of Widelands and is compressed with lossy compression so it should not be used for comparison. I attached a screenshot of the current development version (map: Large Ocean).

Please don't use a sharpening filter, it looks bad and is unnecessary.

current version screenshot

Edited: 2020-11-09, 01:55

Attachment: shot0156.png (1.3 MB)

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GunChleoc
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Joined: 2013-10-07, 15:56
Posts: 3320
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One Elder of Players
Location: RenderedRect
Posted at: 2020-11-10, 07:38

Our biggest problem is the lack of a really skilled Blender artist - many of our buildings look too similar to each other, because their silhouettes are too similar.

We also need to reexport in higher resolution for the zoom feature - I am currently working on the Empire workers, but I don't work on it that regularly, because it is time-consuming, exhausting and boring work and I do need to take breaks.


Busy indexing nil values

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