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Zwan - The Making of a Bosch Art Game Finalist

In 2013 we have been selected as finalists for the Bosch Art Game competition. This presentation is about our game design studio Urustar and our art game Zwan, inspired by Hieronymus Bosch's world.
The Garden of Earthly Delights, like a lot of paintings by Bosch, have an almost chronological development. We start from Eden, than slowly progress to Earth and Hell through a tale of damnation. It seems to tell us that death and suffering are inevitable part of life. So we tried to reflect on how a game could enact such a metaphor.
In Zwan, we decided that the game would have featured a mechanic in which taking damage has two meanings. You will inevitably die, but being hurt will make the world decay and make it change.
We laid out the world on paper, trying to figure out stuff like the relative dimensions of the swan, its speed and how it would have flied and be controlled.
We figured we would have left the player just a little control: left and right to turn. Speed and height would be automatic. We did that for two reasons: to make the game more accessible and to enhance the sense of doom the world should have.
So we modeled a terrain to start making experiments.
We love the low poly art style. We chose to depict objects and creatures directly taken from Bosch’s paintings, but we also asked ourselves: what kind of models would Bosch have created if it was born in this century? So we tried to expand a little bit the surrealism while (hopefully) respecting the vision of the artist.
In the prototype you can already experience the decaying world mechanic and the main interactions.
We have those small collectibles which unlock details of Bosch’s artwork at the end of the game. These can be used as a scoring system, or for external activities (i.e.: can you name all the artworks you’ve found?). We can even link the details to QR Codes to add further information to the images themselves, like the museum where you can find the artwork.
The music, performed by Palconudo and arranged by Lorenzo Marmorato, is generative and reacts to the player’s action in game.
After gathering some feedbacks, we still have had time to make some improvements
The control system was still somewhat clunky and frustrating. We aim to improve this part greatly, because it affects a lot the experience and the sense of flight we want to evoke.
Even if the control system isn’t completely right, we have been struck by Cara Ellison’s review, because in its imperfection is still able to generate the kind of emotion we were looking for.
Then, we've built a brand new system, with a more forgiving turning radius.
The world has been designed at the very start of our adventure, and we couldn’t change it. But still, we tried to make it look more interesting.
One of the first ideas to come up was to get rid of the mountains around the world and put it in a sphere instead, just like in the closed triptych. So we added new features, like a river, mountains, woods.

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Zwan - The Making of a Bosch Art Game Finalist

  1. 1. em st sy sa i te ra me ne ga ge A to le gh ab p ou ca hr st on al i ot itu r em na yi nc ge a e. ac sp
  2. 2. Privacy Traders, 2011
  3. 3. Taste, Share and Have Fun!, 2012
  4. 4. Dervish Derby, 2013
  5. 5. Tale of Tails, 2013
  6. 6. The wrong Lizard, 2013
  7. 7. Monarch, 2013
  8. 8. Tiny Game Design Tool, 2012
  9. 9. Layers, 2013
  10. 10. Our take
  11. 11. The Illustrious Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady
  12. 12. self hurting as a core mechanic
  13. 13. exploration
  14. 14. nothing lasts
  15. 15. fly through the stages of pain and madness
  16. 16. the project
  17. 17. some late tweaks
  18. 18. control system
  19. 19. “The way you are meant to navigate painfully slowly flapping over bizarre landmarks, throughout a world that is round where you turn at the rate of a rusty key in an immovable lock is so hard not to be gratingly saddening.” – Cara Ellison
  20. 20. world layout
  21. 21.
  22. 22. thank you!