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

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Editor’s Letter -

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.

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