Crusaders of art!
Knights, samurais and vikings wage war in For Honor’s post-apocalyptic, medieval setting. Confused? So was publisher Ubisoft. Gary Evans met the art team behind the game to find out how they made it work
The talented For Honor art team showcase their stunning game art for this year’s most exciting game.
The knight storms a medieval castle. Metal clashes, men shout, fires burn. Blood quickly covers the ground as the bodies pile up. With one part of the battlefield won, the knight runs deeper into the castle, adopts a fighting stance and crosses swords with a samurai. This is the part of the game its creators at Ubisoft Montreal call The Art of Battle.
For Honor is Braveheart, Game of Thrones and every samurai movie you’ve ever seen all rolled into one. Live by the sword, die by the sword, respawn and die by the sword all over again.
Another point of reference for the art team was the TV series Viking – because, alongside knights and samurais, axewielding Scandinavian warriors also roam this place. History’s most feared fighters are at war in a dystopian world and have been for as long as anyone can remember.
What stops this high-concept game from become high-fantasy is the art team’s attention to detail. We’re just one or two steps away from reality. Magic doesn’t exist here. There are no dragons. The armour and weapons and environments look real. For Honor is beautiful to look at – at least, beautiful for a game in which the object is to chop your opponent’s head off.
“It’s a bad-ass medieval warfare game with big, bad angry warriors,” says concept artist Guillaume Menuel. “The idea was to depict a world that is violent and bloody and raw, where everyone’s focus is the fight.”
You can play as a character from one of three different factions – knights, samurais and vikings – named The Legion, The Chosen and The Warborn, respectively. Within each faction there are four distinct classes, each with its own skills, weapons and fighting styles.
Guillaume worked mainly on the knights, but says each artist within the team had the chance to work on the other characters, too. The biggest challenge the team faced was making all these different aspects of the game feel cohesive.
Back to the drawing board
Guiding the team through the project was Christian Diaz. Things didn’t always run smoothly on what is essentially a big game built around a big idea. The art director
says, at one point during the production process, Ubisoft HQ also had reservations. Christian and his team had almost finished work on the characters when he made a presentation to HQ. When the lights went up, his bosses said: “Something’s missing.” He had to go back to the drawing board.
“For Honor is an invitation to imagine,” Christian says. “At first, the process is very instinctive. Then I have to rationalise what I feel in order to explain and elaborate on it.”
He describes the overall arc of the project as going from marco to micro, the very big to the very small. In the first year, the art director established “the pillars of art direction and the game itself”. He generated lots of ideas quickly. The pillars, he says, needed to be wide enough apart to hold all of these ideas, but strong enough to stop the whole thing collapsing in on itself.
First the team defined the three main archetypes. They needed be recognisable as knights, samurais and vikings, but also clearly different from each other. They found it easy to separate the knights and samurais, but knights and vikings proved to be a more difficult proposition.
Amplifying and removing
To do this, Christian asked his team to approach characters the same way a sculptor approaches his work: “These artists have to synthesise a lot of details,” he says. “So they take the most important and strongest assets of a character and crank them up. The essence is intact, but with a little something more, which brings a lot of identity. One of the first goals was to reflect what you find in the collective unconscious when people think about those three great warrior legacies. It’s a hook. Then you can start twisting some attributes. We want to get the essence of each hero, getting rid of unnecessary elements, magnifying others.”
This is how he managed to get the nod from his bosses: not by going bigger, but by going smaller, isolating certain elements from each faction to give them their own distinct identity. Once the characters clicked, the team had to work out how make them fit into a medieval setting.
Christian says, “We created a world that isn’t just a reproduction of reality. This game is not historical. With the kind of game we were building, there was room for more than that. There was room for some fantasy, even if magic doesn’t exist. A very nice influence for environments is Game of Thrones, especially how they pushed the fantasy. If you just look at the architecture, the costumes, it breathes a medieval
We created a world that isn’t just a reproduction of reality. There was room for fantasy, even if magic doesn’t exist
When it comes to the look and feel of For Honor, we could call it amplified reality
flavour, but it’s pushed to an edge where I’m like, ‘Yeah, I buy it – it could have existed.‘“
Released early next year, For Honor is a shooter with swords instead of guns. There are single and multiplayer modes. You start a match, cycle through maps, meet your new team and together, swords swinging, storm the battlefield. “When it comes to the look and feel of For Honor,” environment concept artist Maxime Desmettre says, “we could call it amplified reality. An important breakthrough was the map Citadel Gate, the first official map we produced. It represents the global art direction we were aiming for, which meant a lot of back and forth to find the right balance between architectural ingredients, shapes and scale.
“Often, we needed game mechanics’ point on the map to be precisely located and built under constraints. These gameplay areas have to have an easy-toidentify building or landmark. To overcome this, we focused on giving a functional reason to these specific points, so that they make sense and have a function in a medieval fortress.”
Wa r, clans and suffering
“An all-new IP,” Remko Troost says, “a new world, new challenges. I like challenges. Things that take me out of my comfort zone.” Remko, a senior concept artist and illustrator, looked after the vikings.
Initially, he did a lot of sketching and speed painting to rough out all the various routes he’d take with the characters. He then sat with the rest of the team to brainstorm these ideas, to put meat on the bones of his characters. Once he knew which direction he would take, he began working in more detail. At this stage, he says Christian often came and sat beside each member of the team while they worked.
Despite the game’s high concept, Remko says once the characters lined up against each other for the first, the whole thing made sense. From there it was a case of
Desolate beauty The For Honor world is a postapocalyptic medieval setting, painted here by Ludovic Ribardiere. Ubisoft Montreal aimed for a “desolate beauty”. The Wa rborn The vikings are fighting the knights and samurais, but no one remembers why! Here, Guillaume captures their brutal nature.
Big challenge One of the biggest challenges Andrew Jangwoon Im faced was making the various characters recognisable, but also different from their enemies. The Legions Guillaume helped to create a big game full of tiny details, as this knight orthographic shows.
Knight’s Ca stle inside A production sketch by Jeong Hwan Shin. Sometimes, working in greyscale helps to focus on certain design goals more easily. Imagine Remko accepted art director Christian Diaz’s “invitation to imagine” during the ideas stage. Fa ntastic, not fantasy While For Honor is fantastical, it isn’t high fantasy. Maxime’s art of the knights’ stronghold shows the game has its roots in real-life history. Visualising ideas In the game’s first year, Remko came up with lots of ideas very quickly. Then, slowly, throughout the production process, he began to focus on more specific details.