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Cardboard Utopia was started from the belief that the best, most cherished games are the ones that engage you through gameplay, story, and characters. Games that are not just flashy experiences that leave your thoughts once you put down the controller, but make you think, plan, question and discuss. These are the things that create memories for future years. These are the types of games we make.

Founded in Montreal, Quebec, the game development capital of Canada, we are currently developing a Tactical JRPG that plays off our love of classic games like Shining Force and Final Fantasy Tactics, but with a modern, boardgame twist.

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The Ins and Outs of Character/Visual Design - Part 2

Erica Lahaie

Hey hi! This is a continuation on our character/visual design process for the Toran army and units in War of Zodiarcs. If you missed the last part, you can read it here!

Part 1Part 3Part 4Part 5

The last exploration went well. We had some elements we thought were worth exploring, which was the goal. With all that in mind, I took to another round of explorations--this time much faster in iteration. Some things we ended up discussing and had to be kept in mind for this round was that while the Toran are oppressive and large in numbers, they are still human. It’s not in our narrative’s interest to dehumanise them or give them the faceless treatment like many media does with its baddie empires.

Out of fear from exploring the same territory, I start collecting more reference, this time largely pulling from Final Fantasy XIV. I really like character and armor design of that game—or any Final Fantasy circling the anti-Nomuraverse, really. It’s elaborate and ornate without ever being especially ‘loud’, something I thought was good inspiration to pull from.

Alright, some ideas are forming here. We’re exploring far more unique shapes in the armor, clothing, and composition of it all. Some things that stuck out: the coattail/cloth idea looks cool but is maybe too unique of an item for a generic grunt. The armor looks more functional and practical in all of them, though all of them are much too intense. The Toran, while still warriors, have more advanced weaponry that don’t require such a heavy load of armor for every regular unit. 

The problem, though, is that they’re all VERY unique. These are explorations fitting for a character who’s important to the narrative and must stand out from other characters on the screen who have no dialogue or critical importance. On the bright side, there are some good leads to go off of. For one, the vertical shoulder armor looks cool. Second, we’re all still into the visor slits idea. The shape of the helm isn’t there yet but the concept is good.

What we’re trying to go for is a mixing armor with cloth military uniforms, something that makes them look ready for war but past the need for full armor. They don’t need armor! They should intimidate their foes, not protect themselves from them! … I’m getting carried away, here.

Alright so, cool. We have some ideas, some goals, and some patterns and stylings that we’re comfortable with. Let’s push into those ideas some.

This quick exploration simplifies down a considerable amount. We have the important ideas there--the coat, the fur, the shoulder-pads, the gauntlets, leg armor, the visor helm, and chest plate hidden under the coat. The elements we want to emphasise as the markers of Toran attire are starting to show. But we’re running into another issue, it being that the character’s silhouette is maybe a little too “strong”. For a grunt-like unit, there should be as little angular power as possible and the overall silhouette shouldn’t look too distinct. Here, for example:

To the left is our current fella. Center is a prominent rival in the game and to the right, our protagonist, Weiss. See how all three have incredibly unique shapes? Not in that none of them are the same, but how they all have defining features that would make them instantly recognisable? Hell, the Toran soldier looks even more recognisable than our hero. That ain’t right—let’s fix that and work on simplifying his styling even more. The more concise we can be, the better.

This is where we really start getting into the swing of it. We’ve got a much more simplified silhouette that we’re, by and large, satisfied with. I’ve also opted to shit-can serious detail and just go for what matters: shapes and contours. We can focus on details later. You should always focus on details later, actually. I really need to start listening to my own advice.

We look over these and in a moment of unintended brilliance, our creative director, Jason, goes “I get a heavy Mongolian vibe from them.” “[...] they look like they're wearing sheepskin jackets.”

Shit, that’s perfect.

In the next post, we’ll look into nailing down our final ideas and exploring them. See you next Wednesday!