Before I started being professionally concerned with aesthetics, I remember always having a very reductionist way of thinking about different art-styles, especially video-game art, where you don’t have “currents” like you do in painting. I categorized everything as either AAA photo-realism (Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty etc.) , cute 3D (most Nintendo games) , pixel-art, cute 2D and Minecraft. However, by the time we actually started working on Interrogation I thought that my reductionist art critic days were behind me. I was so wrong.
Interrogation was born at a game-jam, and only afterwards we (me and my co-founders at Critique Gaming) decided we want to actually invest two years of our lives in (and, in time, of other people as well) in developing it. From its very first version, it was a detective game in which you realistically interrogated suspects. It was naturally a dark and serious kind of game, from the writing to the topics that we were approaching (extremism, radicalization, authority abuse etc.) and so we knew we wanted an aesthetic that sends off the same vibe. So we decided to go towards the tested aesthetic for hardboiled storytelling: noir.
The decision to go for noir was made intuitively under the game-jam’s time constraints, but looking back I recognize just how much it helped our game. It’s not just that I personally believe this, it is one of the first thing that any player tells us when they play Interrogation: that they love how well the art-style fits the game.
This is because noir does a few cool things:
- With its lack of color and use of chiaroscuro, it naturally manages to draw your attention to the relevant visual elements, removing the clutter
- It has influenced modern cinema enough so that its presence sends off to most people some very valuable signals about the comic/movie/game they are reading/watching/playing:
- That the fictional world it is set in is not idealized. Moral grays abound.
- That the topics approached will be heavy: corruption, violence, radicalization.
- Femme fattales incoming (which is not really true in our case. Oops.)
Back to our artwork’s timeline. As we started working more seriously on the game, the first thing we realized is that we have some serious UI issues (that I’m not going to go into right now) but also that it’s weird to have a game in which you interrogate suspects, but in which their faces never move. Knowing that we can’t employ the same solution as Rockstar games, whilst wanting to give players realistic facial expressions, we turned to an old-school animation technique called rotoscoping.
Rotoscoping is essentially just a fancy name for: take pictures, then draw over them. What we did specifically is that we got some actors, directed them to play the characters, took rapid-fire photos of them performing different gestures, and then selected a handful of frames from each gesture, enough to make animations.