In Search of Cuteness! Defining a Look for Butter Royale Characters
Hello! This is Gary Choo of Mighty Bear Games. In the team, I function as the Lead Artist for Butter Royale, a food fight-themed battle royale game that puts a family-friendly spin on this multiplayer genre. It was released on Apple Arcade earlier this year! I drove the visual direction for its world, food machines, and characters. In this article, I’ll go into how we set up the art direction for our beloved characters, what factors led to its conception, and the challenges we faced. Ready? LETTUCE begin!
In the beginning…
Whoops! Before we begin, let’s understand what characters represent in the context of multiplayer video games. Just like characters in stories, characters in video games share the same importance of driving a narrative. In multiplayer games, players don’t only use characters as a narrative aid, they serve as an interactive aid as well. Normally, players get to choose from 50+ character skins and then by joining games and playing with other similarly costumed players, they become part of a community. For a game like Butter Royale, we need a lot of characters to be created. Here’s what we did to create our brand of cuteness for the characters.
In the beginning (for reals)
Still here? Awesome. Sketching on paper is the easiest way to get those creative juices flowing. At the start, I knew Butter Royale was going to be a combat game with epic food fighting gadgets and this gave me a gauge on the tone and expectation. I then projected it in my head before sketching what it could look like. At this stage, it’s explorative. I keep the ideas wild, ignoring technical limitations because you never know what’s achievable at this point. Some ideas may be revisited even after the release of the final product.
The troubleshooting phase- Who is this game for?
While sketching, I focus on problem-solving for the game and player needs. For Butter Royale, I learnt to ask: “Who is this game for? Who’s playing it? Is it accessible?” and design with these considerations in mind. Weapon handling and character function for players started to be the driving motivation and this led me to explore templates with a more balanced human proportion, rather than the usual large-headed characters used in many mobile games. These proportions help to convey acrobatic actions, victory poses, and dance moves.
Setting up the character art direction
Here’s the meat of it! Great character designs drive or motivate players to identify and engage with your product. The truth is; if you execute your art direction strategies with a consistent visual language, you will easily establish a pattern that will forever be associated with your final product. That’s powerful stuff! These are a few steps you can follow to set up the art direction for your characters.
1. Choose visual consistencies for character branding
Here, we layer on rules for visual consistency. In the case of Butter Royale, the characters are from all ages, occupations, and ethnicities so the challenge here was to influence players to associate these designs with the product. This is a practice I do to solve this, I call it content combos. Here’s an example of what that means, I thought to link the characters cohesively. It’ll be a great idea that at all times they’ll be wearing protective gear. This could be a great way to add on to branding so you’ll be reminded of Butter Royale every time you see this content combo:
Food weapon + protective gear + occupation
Protective gear is also a reference to extreme sports which helps to define the genre. However, we ditched the idea later and reduced the combo to:
Food weapon + occupation.
This approach was less complex and easier for players to identify. Sometimes having too many great ideas dilutes the branding. having no protective gear meant that we had no design constraints regarding which occupations would go well with said gear. I did another sketch and colour pass to validate these ideas and what stood out to me was that simple content combos lead to accessibility.
2. Mock it up for road mapping
At this point, we’ve got enough material to work with for a quick 3D mockup. This step is important, the mockup is far from perfect but it helps me to envision what the end result may look like, helping us take decisions, steering it closer towards our final product vision. This mockup is useful for validating other concerns by importing it in an early prototype of our game and analysis the following:
- Gameplay camera angle
- The scale of character against the environment
- Scope the work in front of us
- Generate current impressions from a player’s perspective, assess appeal, etc
Next, with paint overs, I mocked up the geometric treatment for the characters. All characters would apply the same consistency of geometry. These 3 explorations were our top choices in terms of cuteness and accessibility for a global audience. All 3 were also in line with our product’s tone and vision. Our art team formed a discussion around the mockups, weighing out the pros and cons.
A. Rounded- Technically easy for any artist to recreate and handle for outsourcing. Can adhere to a range of animation styles. A scalable style that benefits other media platforms.
B. Blocky- Very popular look but designs needed to be carefully re-thought and sculpted in order for lighting to bring out the best shadows and volumes.
C. Noodle limbs- The cutest but doesn’t work for all occupation types. Noodle limbs also meant it has technical challenges. Animation style would be very stylised and specific.
Option A was the one favoured over the others. It had the style treatment that hit all the boxes in our checklist.
3. Set up design guidelines for character production
Now to take a granular look on what makes the character our own! It’s important to define clear design guidelines. This practice of consistency helps when producing a large volume of work with different teams of artists. Every decision made should echo back to the product. Here’s what we look out for.
- Detail Management– With the geometric treatment established earlier during the mockups, here’s how we execute it. Introduce more primitive shapes to represent costume details, this helps to eliminate unnecessary noise when viewing from the mobile screen. This step was optional but we decided that spherical, clean symmetry treatment would be the look that will carry the brand of our characters.
- Colour Hierarchy — Viewing our characters on the mobile screen is tricky due to the size of its platform. Here, we pay attention to colour hierarchy. No more than 3 colours should be dominating the majority of the character, the lesser the better. Try not to decide what’s attractive at the moment, rather, decide on something that has lasting effects. This has many scalable advantages for branding and merchandising. Some of the most iconic global brands keep this as a basic design rule.
4. Attention to World Building
- Introduce factions– when creating a big roster of characters, we ask, just who do we put in? Having factions and opposites automatically drives a narrative between characters, sometimes it creates playful online interactions. For example, we have a space faction which features an astronaut and an alien. Are they rivals or are they allies? Players who are playing the squad mode for Battle Royale as a group of aliens may run into a group of astronauts, what will happen then? This is scalable for social content and fan theories. This amplifies the fun factor of our product and adds a layer on world-building.
- Design around humour and values- Anyone can be a participant of Butter Royale, but how we do decide on the initial rooster for character concepts? We lean in on humour for this. Butter Royale’s title in itself is a fantastic pun, it builds an expectation of humour, so we asked what’d be funny and out of character to see on the Butter-field? Judges, Grannies, Astronauts, Wrestlers, Scuba Divers — anyone that would at be out of place in a food fight. This augments the light-hearted tone of our product. It’s important that the Character Concepts in itself shouldn’t be confusing, players shouldn’t second guess the characters’ occupation at a glance. Layering in on top of humour, we ask if our choices are aligned with the product values — Is it inclusive? Is it non-violent? Is it playful?
The final step. Having established the art direction, we need to preserve it by means of documentation. Documentation plays a crucial role in any treatment setting. Documentation helps assure continuity of quality. In the character production pipeline, there are many specific directions in treatment. Proper documentation can help the practitioner to recall those directions.
And there you have it! These are the steps I took to define the look for our Butter Royale characters. If you like this post, be sure to check out these other useful links to learn more about defining a look or style for your game.
- How Nintendo created its wild new cast of fighters for Switch game Arms
- Splatoon’s stylish world was inspired by skateboarding and hip hop
If you’re interested in learning more about how we do art in Mighty Bear, here are more articles!
- How We Made Butter Royale Look Good Enough to Eat
- Animating for Games: 4 Tips for Success
- 3 Key Rules for Effective UI Design
- Maya Python for Newbies — Basics
- Procedural Workflow in Video Game Art
I hope that you’ve found this article useful and hopefully it gave you some insights into my experiences. Thanks for reading!
In Search of Cuteness! Defining a Look for Butter Royale Characters was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.