February 18, 2014 9:15 PM | Staff
"I was trapped in the routine of how I believed games were designed, and not what they could be." Joe Dowsett started fiddling with Game Maker and Mark Overmars' Drape when he was just six years old. Now the Australian developer is studying design, and is part of the indie collective Braingale, alongside creators like Shelby Smith, Jerry Mickle and Zak Ayles.
And yet all these years later, he's still perfecting his style. At the start of 2013, Dowsett was working on Deios, a sort of arena-shooter slash mind-boggler -- and he was finding the art style quite the sticking point.
He was looking at games that had come before it, and trying to work out how his game should look in comparison. But he soon realized that this approach was doing him no favors -- he needed to think outside the box.
"Most of it was retraining my eye to understand nature," he tells me. "From my long years of game development, I had this real bias towards drawing nature as video games preserve it, rather than as what it really is."
"At the same time that degree of detail is time consuming and numbing, so I created this technique of corrupting the images and repeating them to hide the tiled nature. Work out how to hide the cloned nature of tiles, hide it under the table, and you have obtained my promethean flame."
Indeed, if you take a look at how Deios looked a year ago compared to its style now, it's quite the incredible transformation. But Deios takes that image-corruption even further, to the point that it's unlike anything you've seen in a video game before.
Check out the video above if you don't believe me. Dowsett says he achieved this style through a combination of compression glitches, MS Paint glitches, and lots of tan and sin functions coupled with the rarely-utilized pixel line commands in Game Maker.
"Scale the image up to expose the imperfections because no one likes plastic flowers," he adds. "Scale it down to distort it because no one dares to destroy these days. Select a rectangle and clone it to expose the beauty of repetition. Blend it through surfaces, blend together - blur."
"I have a huge collection of design related fields and nature books. I would raid second hand book stores or charity stores and collect huge collections for references. I've torn a few bags with the weight of them."Dowsett's biggest inspiration for his art style is the world around him. He lives in a rural area of Australia, and frequently takes long treks across the weaving creek beds.
"I'm inspired in the dissonance of nature and how technology perceives it when it fucks up and corrupts," he says. "Also I'm inspired by my love-hate relationship between how technology takes me away from the world, and how it brings me closer to it. I love how the rectangular mathematical shapes burn against organic plants and that."
He hoards nature books and pulls references from the wonders of the world. Direct references in Deios include the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, and the green coastlines of Dubline. "These places taught me how to draw cliffs worth drawing," he notes.
He then brings other inspirations together and lets them stew. His time with Braingale, and the Poppenkast before that, plus lost artworks found via Reddit. But at what point does he decide "Yeah OK, that's enough glitchy stuff going on in that scene, I can move on"?
"Hahaha, I usually stop when I think it looks good," he laughs. "Most of it is me plunking down code or surface shaders I tweaked and seeing how they look. I don't like to get too involved in trying to get it looking perfect, so I'll keep a light touch. I follow my gut."
Deios is available to purchase from the official website.
[Mike Rose wrote this article for sister site Gamasutra]