In this week’s blog post, we’re going to take a closer look at the inspirational concept art that helped drive the aesthetic of Tethered.
By May 2015 we had a solid prototype of Tethered that demonstrated many of our core gameplay mechanics; our “Gameplay Spine”. While we were spending the majority of our time refining this experience, we were acutely aware that we needed a very strong visual hook to bring it all to life. With this in mind we turned to our friend and sickeningly talented concept artist, Espen.
Concept art is so important to a project like Tethered. It's useful in so many ways ranging from complex key-art pieces that help define the game's DNA , or a simple series of sketches that help you figure out what you want (or don't want) things to look like.
Our inspiration for the aesthetic of Tethered was simple; we wanted it to be reminiscent of the magical and quirky worlds created by the master himself, Hayoa Miyazaki. A fantastical setting like those found in "Spirited Away" or "Howl's Moving Castle" would free us from the constraints of reality, offering up a magical world that surrounds the player as they step into VR.
Espen’s style was just about as close to a perfect fit as you could hope for. His painting skills are phenomenal and from the very first exchange, he instinctively understood what we wanted. The first job for Espen was to show us what a level of our game might look like. At this point, Tethered was not set in a beautiful floating archipelago – that came later. First thing we needed was an island.
We provided Espen with a prototype screenshot and asked him to paint over it to show how we might treat the world from an artistic point of view:
This is what came back to us -
“Wow” was the general consensus across the small team.
Although we eventually made the difficult call to move away from “The Island” concept to the more fantastical sky-born achipelago, we feel that this early concept work set the tone for everything that followed.
Our first floating island piece was once again based on an in game prototype screenshot with Espen painting over it. To this day, this particular image is one of the single most relevant pieces of conceptual artwork we produced for the game. It showed us how beautiful the game could be in a floating sky island universe!
Espen’s work continued to astound us throughout the course of development, providing a much needed coherent vision and detail that our talented art team could shape into gameplay assets. Each work he created could easily stand on its own as a brilliant work of art.
Although some of the images below didn’t quite make it into the final game in their purest form, they all went some way to helping us answer questions and figure out what Tethered could be.
We salute you, Espen the Mighty who lives in the mountains!