concepting a samurai assassin
Assistant art director Andrew Jangwoon Im explains why research was key to creating his favourite character
“I first got assigned to do a character by my art director, Christian, and he explained minor details about the characters. This was a time when I used all my creativity and spent most of my time researching, to learn about the character.
When we had our next meeting, we exchanged our ideas using early sketches, and tried to solve any problems. This was when the design boundary kicked in, which means I learned what was possible for rigging purposes, animation and so on.
I made mistakes at the start of the project, which meant my art couldn’t work for either modelling or animation. I learned my lesson: always check with everyone before submitting a character! After many iterations, I met the lead 3D artists and riggers to check if my concept art was functional. Once I got their approval, my art was presented to the upper management.
My favourite character is Orochi, a samurai assassin. It was the first character I was asked to do and it survived all the way through the project. I collected hundreds of reference images from movies, games, animation, comic book, illustrations, figurines and photographs of real armour.
I would normally spend almost 60 per cent of my working process finding references. Not only images, but reading materials, to learn about the history of armour. Because I like to completely understand what I’m designing, sometimes it takes even longer to start sketching.
Orochi was my first character, so I learnt a lot about samurai culture and their armour during the game’s development. I created many iterations, because there were lots of flaws in the design. But whenever I see this character, he reminds me of the excitement and passion I felt at the start of the project.”
refining each character until the image onscreen matched the ideas in their heads.
“A lot of research was done on each faction – their culture, their tools, object art, how they live – in order to find what really separated them,” say Remko. “It’s a harsh and dark universe where war, clans, suffering and the search for power rules. People are fighting since the ages. Probably they don’t even know why they’re fighting anymore. Live and die by the blade!”
The medieval setting in which these blades are swung is as captivating as the characters who swing them. As Ludovic Ribardiere, concept artist on the game, says, “The biggest challenge was credibility: will the player believe what they’re seeing on screen?”
“Even if – or maybe, because – we’re not a historical game,” Jeong Hwan Shin says, “we have to be consistent. The senior concept artist says the team wanted to be respectful of the art, culture and architecture for the three
groups of warriors. But at the same time, each had to have a strong identity.
“You have to totally reinvent parts of a real world,” Jeong continues. “The result is gritty and grandiose, with a desolate beauty.” He explains how each member of the team was given a lot of freedom to put their own ideas into the game, but they always came back to Christian’s original pillars. “We were told to look at the shape and design of architectures. Look at how we emphasised or exaggerated things. And also look at some other layers of decorations on top of the basic structure of architectures, set dressings and graphic designs such as emblems and faction logos. These were added to give some more modern touch Christian wanted, to enhance the colour and tone of the overall look of the game.”
The team studied architecture and left no stone unturned in their attempts at make their settings credible, researching the kind of roofing, columns and engravings each warrior lived among. It wasn’t just a case of replicating what they found, but rather getting the facts straight and then adapting designs to make them their own. “Sometimes we had to really study, to understand how the building was made,” Jeong says, “what materials were used, what functions the structure has, why the architecture has a certain shape.”
Yeah, ba d-ass
Andrew Jangwoon Im, in charge of vikings, gives a good examples of how facts were twisted to create something new. Despite the idea we all have, he says, vikings never really had horns on their helmets.
“We decided to add horns to vikings because that was within the boundary of fantasy we had allowed ourselves. Visually, with horns, they looked bad-ass.”
For all the bloodshed and beheadings, the game is lovely to look at. And it’s more technical that you might think. The Art of Battle fight mode – holding your sword in one of three stances to defend and attack – gives fights a tactical element. There’s also a strong narrative tying all these battles together. But mainly it’s a tough, meaty brawler of a game: the art team has captured perfectly the nobility and stupidity of war. For Honor is fun. But, above everything else, it’s believable.
“Honestly, I never had a single doubt for our game,” Andrew says, “Even when there were only stick men fighting each other. The gameplay, The Art of Battle, was just amazing. I’m a hard-core gamer. I’ve played this game for about four years and I still enjoy playing it.
“Bad-ass. I hope bad-ass is the word to describe our characters. Yeah, bad-ass.”
You have to reinvent parts of the real world. The result is gritty and grandiose
The Chosen The samurais are known for their brutal efficiency, but will they win the fight? Andrew’s concept art shows the calm before the storm. Orochi For the character Orochi, Andrew combined elements of the ninja and samurai aesthetic.
cursed lands Like a lot of lands in the game, forests are cursed, poisonous environments. Ludovic depicted trees as tortured shapes mixed with parts of wrecked ships and other objects.
Inspiration Guillaume says that when he came up with his character designs the TV series Viking was a big inspiration, as was Game of Thrones.
Knight Sa nctuary Backdrop To give a wow feeling to the player at ground level, Jeong exaggerated medieval architectural wall elements.
Fighting stance Is the axe mightier than the sword? Each of the game’s three archetypes has their own strengths and weaknesses. Remko’s viking favours the axe. Home sweet home Ludovic’s early concept for a viking fortress. He aimed to depict something quite rough: a mix of huge engraved wooden beams, old stones, tarpaulins and ropes. Fight them on the beaches For all its violence, For Honor is a beautiful game to look at, and Maxime’s environment art reflects this aesthetic well.