Today I am going to share with you the visual evolution behind Legends At War! To recap from previous articles here on the Game-O-Gami development blog, Legends At War is an area-control card game, where 2-4 players place down mythological character cards onto a modular board, in an attempt to capture their opponents’ cards and strengthen the position of their own cards.
Every character has 4 battle values (stats), oriented on the north, south, east, and west edges of the cards. Each card belongs to one of four mythological factions (pantheons), belongs to one of three elemental dominions (earth, sea, and sky), and ranges in power relative to the other cards (level I being the weakest, level III being the strongest). Most of the character cards also have a special ability.
All of this data needs to be displayed on the cards for gameplay purposes:
The challenge was getting all of this data displayed on the cards in a way that was organized, uncluttered, and visually appealing. Early on, I made the decision that the card illustrations should be obscured as little as possible, because they’re just so darn beautiful and add so much to the fun of the game. I wanted the card data to sit on top of the illustrations, giving the illustrations almost full-bleed, instead of confining the art to smaller windows like most card games do. This also meant that I would have to come up with graphic icons for almost everything, instead of resorting to text that would take up too much space.
My original card designs were hand-drawn on index cards. Sloppy, but effective. This was the easiest way to brainstorm and see what kind of layout would look best on final printed cards.
Next, I mocked up some tests in Photoshop. Once the game had been proven fun and worth pursuing further (after extensive alpha-testing), I roughly translated what was in my head onto the computer.
Late Alpha-test version of the cards:
I threw in a placeholder illustration and built the “user interface” around that. You can see a few things missing from this first pass at the visuals. As the game became more complex, the visuals became more complex:
There is no pantheon icon, because although mythological pantheons were part of the flavor of the game, they did not have any use in the gameplay design at the time.
Cards had no level at the time, and were meant to be equally balanced against each other. This didn’t quite feel right, with cards like Centaurs being ranked equally with cards like Zeus and The Midgard Serpent. Separating cards into different levels worked out better thematically, and also made for a better gameplay experience with escalating power levels after each round. A visual showing the card levels would have to be added.
Dominions were represented by a colored border instead of an icon. Yellow for Sky, Red for Earth, Blue for Sea. In order to make the game more friendly for the color-blind, dominion icons were added later. The color scheme for the graphics did carry over into the final, to compliment the dominion icons. It also carried over into the art direction for the illustrations, with each character illustration having a color scheme representative of its dominion (whenever it makes sense and looks good.)
As the game moved from the design/test phase into pre-production phase, the graphic layout was updated.
Beta-test version of the cards:
Xia Taptara and Monika Palosz did an amazing job on the preliminary character illustrations. These first examples of the finished artwork were incorporated into the card layout, which was redesigned around them. New icons were added to communicate the new gameplay elements (pantheons, levels, dominions). The top-corner compass stats were added so players could quickly assess their options when holding multiple cards in their hands. The ability icons were made to stand out as much as possible, for easy playtesting.
This version of the graphics has been great for playtesting. They’re not pretty, but the graphics get the necessary info across and players find the game quick to learn (other than needing a reference sheet for what the ability icons do.) Visually, though, these placeholder graphics have always bugged me. The illustrations behind them are just so good, that the graphics looked weak in comparison, even though they’re obviously just there as a testing placeholder.
Being an artist myself, I have very high standards for the final look of this game. I devoted serious time over the past few weeks developing a polished aesthetic for the cards. Keeping most of the previous layout intact, I revamped the placeholder graphics, aiming for consistent visuals that would project the right mood for the game and look more professional. This new appearance will set a quality and style bar for the game’s art moving forward.
I wanted the graphics to be colorful and pop on the cards, while still being consistent with the serious style of the illustrations. After much experimentation, metal and jewels became the theme of the graphic style. The ability icons now look like ancient coins, with an additional ring of spikes to differentiate “persistent” abilities from “instant” abilities. Drop shadows replaced the old outlines to help the graphics pop out better from the illustration. I re-arranged the order of the bottom corner icons, to better separate the dominion icon from the stat jewels, and to put the pantheon icon in a more prominent position.
A visual overhaul, showing the latest version of the graphic design:
These three examples are from the Greek pantheon, demonstrating the look for Earth, Sea, and Sky dominions. What do you think of this updated visual style? Your feedback is very much appreciated!