Of Chroma, Cameras and Connotation

We’re pleased to announce that Brooklyn Game Ensemble has added a new collaborator to our roster: Vincent LaCava of This is Pop, who is stepping in to guide the art direction and visual style of LIBRARY. Vincent has a well-honed and extremely stylish visual sensibility and we’re excited to have him aboard. Until recently, the visual look of our exploratory prototype reflected an emphasis on rapid iteration and functional placeholders, with relatively little time devoted to feel or style — except insofar as those things arose from the systems we’ve been building and tweaking. In other words, we’ve been working in a rich space of meaning, but with visuals that are one step further than bare-bones “programmer art.” Nathalie has been the leading pioneer of our visual style to date; she’s contributed immensely to decisions about the construction of our library’s procedurally-generated space, the perspective the player sees the library from, and a lot of directions we’ve explored with regards to color — but in recent weeks she and Vincent have been collaborating on taking the visual side of our game one step deeper.

The installation art of Olafur Eliasson come up repeatedly in our discussion of light, color and space. His works have an inimitable way of harnessing qualities of the atmosphere you move through — the transmutation of light and color, the refraction and physical feel of tiny particles of water, even the temperature of the gallery rooms his pieces occupy. Nathalie described one of the pieces she and Eric experienced as floating in a space consisting purely of colors, where the walls and ceiling and sense of structure seemed to fall away or become irrelevant.

Our spatial explorations, on the other hand, have been driven partially by our instincts about mood and feel, but primarily by more formal concerns about objects in the space, player interaction with objects, and clarity of meaning. For several months we were using color as a quick and easy shorthand to denote properties of different kinds of books: were their natures hidden or revealed to the player? What could they do, and how were they important? Did they belong with other books as a set? Was this book the one you’re looking for? As we grappled with the handles and edges of our nascent system, we used simple signifiers of distinct, solid colors to mark our progress and stake down the amorphous, billowing tent of our design problem.

The library seen in earlier posts on this blog have been full of vibrant splotches of color, sometimes rainbow-like, all representing nuances of data in our game (and in the library it represents). At times we’ve relished the candy-like colors, randomly drawn from the full RGB palette — no, really, a lot of the colorful images we’ve been using operate on three random numbers between 0 and 255 for red, green and blue values! The arbitrary, digitally-driven nature of our color values has highlighted the fact that each colorful book is a data object, at times making the navigation of the library feel like a cyberpunk exploration of a world-like database. We wanted to try a different path, more evocative and moody — one inspired in part by Eliason’s work with color — so Nathalie and Vincent led our prototype towards this look:

The recent builds of our game are far more monochromatic — but across the same range of colors as before, simply one at a time. (We plan on restricting the palette in the future to a more curated set of shades.) Using 3D lighting filters and scripts that twist more conventional notions of fog, palette swapping, shafts of light and other effects, we’ve created a world where the player (represented still by a little pawn) floats through single-hued chambers in clouds of color. In lieu of darkness at the edges of the world, away from kindled light sources, we now have an ever thicker fog of color, its intensity increasing until the shapes of our book-stacks bleeds away into formless hue.

We’re still not sure how permanent or useful this look is. As a literal representation of an information space, it’s far more murky than previous builds — but then again, a detailed overhead map would probably be the “clearest” way to represent the procedurally spaces we construct, and that’s not our goal. LIBRARY, at least in its current form, is as much about uncertainty, glimpsed shadows and murky areas beyond view as it is about understanding exactly where you are in a space made of linguistic meaning. More precisely, perhaps it’s about a contentious voyage between those two poles. Along the way, drifting through clouds of color adds texture and shifting, highly interpretable mood to your movements, but also denotes a change of place. Each room is thoroughly infused with a distinct diffuse color; first you are here, and the world is blue. Now you have walked a few paces into a new chamber, of new meaning, and the world is ochre, or mauve, or lavender. Associations with color abound in games, but these colors arise from an algorithmic process. What do they mean? Perhaps only what the player allows them to.

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