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Designing Road Not Taken’s lead character – an artist’s perspective

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Hi everyone! I’m Brent, the lead artist for Spry Fox‘s upcoming PS4 and PS Vita game, Road Not Taken. We’ve had a lot of questions and compliments about the look of the game’s main character, so I thought you might enjoy reading about the process I went through in creating it!

First, I guess I should say that designing a game’s main character/avatar is always tricky. The avatar has to work as a functional asset within the context of the game, has to look good in marketing materials and screenshots, but most importantly, has to feel right as something that represents you, the player! Easier said than done.

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In Road Not Taken, the main character is a forest ranger of sorts (who happens to be blessed with mystical powers of levitation). Although the theme of the game superficially calls for it, I knew right off the bat that I didn’t want to go with a typical “park ranger” motif. The forest of Road Not Taken is mysterious and enchanted, and I wanted the Avatar to have the same vibe. So instead, I drew inspiration from more delightful/whimsical figures. Some of my key inspirations include:

  • I had the great pleasure and fortune of working with Robin Hunicke (Journey) in the past (hell yeah, name drop!). Her philosophies and discussions on aesthetics and her talks on the creation process of Journey has always carried a huge level of inspiration in my works and has carried over into design decisions made in Road Not Taken in a big way.
  • As a tile-based game, Road Not Taken demands characters that are generally 1:1 in ratio to comfortably sit in a given cell. Like many 8-bit tile games (Zelda, Lolo, Bomberman), you’re not afforded a multitude of sizes and scale to play with when designing within the confines of a grid. 8-bit design serves as big inspiration in communicating so much with so little.
  • I was previously the Art Director on an MMO called Glitch. I created hundreds of NPCs for the game, but one of them that stuck with me was the Smuggler character. I always wanted to use him again for something, so when it came to designing the characters for Road Not Taken, he was one of the first characters I dug out of the ol’ brain archives to re-iterate on. (Wait… did I really just reference myself as a point of inspiration? Tsk tsk. Shameful.)

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The general look of the avatar hasn’t changed a whole lot from its earliest sketches to its current iteration. I knew I wanted the main character to be holding a staff to signal a “lone traveller” persona. And I knew s/he needed to be hooded to hide his/her gender, so everyone could identify with the main character.

But when dealing with a character of such a stout stature that a tile-based game calls for, nailing down the overall shape of the character is everything. You could see by the early sketches and prototypes that the general theme and look of the character did not change through the process. Almost all of my sketches and concepts were iterations on the character’s head/hood shape and size. I was barely concerned about what was inside this silhouette until I was settled on the shape. In the end, I wanted the character to be whimsical — almost elven or wizard-like — yet still remain human in nature.

The blue flame was one of the last elements I added to the design, and I did it for three reasons. One, to give him a signature element to elevate him from being just “some hooded dude”. Two, for thematic purposes, the flame acts as the character’s life meter. When the flame dies, so too does our hero. And three, because why not a blue flame?

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So, what’s under the main character’s hood? We are currently experimenting with having the player reveal themselves to townsfolk (get your mind out of the gutter; I don’t mean it like that!). There are currently hundreds of possible avatar combinations, and we are working on allowing the player to have the option of fully customising their character. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the possible combinations! Which one are you?

I hope this glimpse into the artistic development process behind Road Not Taken has been interesting to you! If you have any other questions about the look and feel of the game, please leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to answer! And if this is your first time hearing about the game, please check out some of the video teasers that we’ve previously released here on the PlayStation Blog!

8 Comments
2 Author replies
jamie-sixtyfour 24 January, 2014 @ 16:06
1

What beautiful artwork! I’ll be paying this one closer attention now.

Thanks for sharing this. Always wonderful to see the thought-process going on before the final product reaches us, mere punters.

Really looking forward to this game!

A really sweet character, I probably wouldn’t reveal what’s under the hood though. Or maybe in a later game? ;)

Brent Kobayashi 24 January, 2014 @ 18:43
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Thanks for the comment!
And you bring up a good point. I was debating whether or not to reveal what’s under the hood in this post as well. But, I figured these are just concepts at this point, so why not! The actual sequence of who you are, what you become, will not be exactly as shown and hopefully leave people with a good sense of surprise still :). Hopefully anyways. Or else I just ruined this part of the game! Also, Bruce Willis is a ghost.

dio_tsirigotis 24 January, 2014 @ 18:18
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Extremely charming design as well as an incredibly entertaining post!!

Ever since the update on the game’s soundtrack, I can’t wait to see what the final product will feel like!

I wish the whole team at Spry Fox and yourself all the best (…and I’m silently hoping that the release date isn’t too far away :P)

compliments to your designs :’) theyre really nice and cute!

This game is looking pretty interesting. Any idea on a release date yet? Or at least release window? Presumably if you are still in some concept stages it might be a while yet? Whenever it comes out I’ll definitely be picking it up though. Good job :)

Brent Kobayashi 24 January, 2014 @ 22:23
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Sorry, I wish I knew! I believe we’re still hoping for early-mid this year. Don’t let the fact that we’re still concepting at this stage scare you into thinking we’re years away or anything. I’ll be concepting characters even years after the game is done. IT’S NEVER GOOD ENOUGH!!!

Haha the classic creator’s curse. Well I look forward to seeing the finished product!

Having played quite a bit, and still play, Triple Town, i can see some similarities in the style of gameplay, so i’ll be keeping my eye on Road Not Taken. Would definitely get this for the Vita.

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