Happy New Year everyone! We’re getting 2013 off to a good start with some new content. Today we’re going to muse over sci-fi control panels and user interface in general. Make sure to fasten your seat belts!
First off, apologies for such a late update. All manner of pressing ‘real-life’ trials and tribulations conspired against our scheduled development update. We’ve been busy over the Christmas holidays though so there will be plenty of updates in the coming months.
Now, when you think of the humble control panel, your first thoughts are probably of your car dashboard.
You’ve got your speedometer, your fuel gauge, radio tuner, air conditioning, temperature etc. All these independent instruments combine to give you, the driver, an accurate idea of what’s going on around you. They’re a very convenient way of telling you the most relevant information at a moment’s glance.
The variance between control panels is as colossal as the range of uses they’re designed for. Dials, sliders, buttons, knobs, switches, levers, joysticks, throttles, triggers, keyboards, LEDs, bulbs, monitors, touch-screen displays etc. The list goes on and on. Certain methods of input being so popular that they’ve made the jump from physical to digital. Even with cursors and touch-screen tablets we’re still pressing ‘buttons’ and dragging sliders.
Travel back in time to before touch-screens and modern computers though, and you’ll find a wonderful world of analogue and hydraulic splendour. With Astro-Nought, we’ll be bending the rules slightly and creating a space station set in the 1940′s. This gives us the freedom to use control panels from that era as a great source of inspiration for our own designs. Finding the right instruments for each bit of functionality in the game is a challenge but, at the same time, great fun.
It’s not just functionality we’re focusing on though. Each instrument has to be carefully crafted to fit in with the whole ‘steam-punk / art-deco’ aesthetic. To make sure there aren’t any stark contrasts in art direction across the whole project that would interrupt the immersive environment we’re hoping to create.
To that end, we have folders and folders of research that help and guide our design choices. Take a look at the picture below. Where does THAT come from?
THAT, my dear friends, is the spin-cycle knob from a 1940′s dryer. It’s positively dripping with style. Can you see the heights from which we have fallen?
It is also one of my favourite examples of user interface design that looks ‘space-age’ without being modern. I’m sure you can appreciate the fine line we’re walking with a sci-fi game set in the 1940′s, but it’ll be worth it. Below is a closer look at the Astro-Nought dock at this early stage in development. No LEDs or touch-screen displays here. Only burnished copper, hydraulics and chunky buttons.
At the moment, it’s looking far too steam-punk and not enough art-deco, but we’re working on it. With a wealth of research and plenty of design work, I’m sure we can iron it out before we begin beta testing. On the subject of beta testing, we’re thinking of setting up a forum here on Meteor-Write to get some feedback and input from those interested in playing a part in the development of Astro-Nought. Let us know if that’s something you’d be interested in and we’ll make it happen.
We’d love to start a dialogue with the Astro-Nought community and discuss what you hope to see appearing in this game.
We’ve got plenty of new ideas to work on in the meantime (I’m currently in the process of drawing up a blueprint for the space station) so that’s exciting, and all the while Gareth is working hard on writing a plot so incredibly sci-fi-tastic, that you’ll forget we never had giant space stations in the 1940′s. You’ll start to see some really incredible stuff here on the development blog in the next few months, so check back often. I’ll work on fixing the RSS feed before the next post so it’ll be even easier to see how we’re doing!
Until next time!
Twitter Username – Lycanstrife
Right! It’s high time I shared a bit more of what we’ve been working on lately. Can anybody say “new screenshot”?
There’s an obtuse and overly-elaborate post on UI design that’ll be up before the end of the week, but in the meantime I thought I’d show you how our recent work has impacted on Astro-Nought’s layout and interface.
We’re cheekily using a borrowed ‘sci-fi corridor’ at the moment, but we’ll be creating our own backdrops and locations a bit further down the line. Check out the previous blog post on corridors in space for some further thoughts on the matter.
If the toolbar looks a bit excessive, just wait. There are some very good reasons why it looks the way it does. Also, bear in mind that at this point everything’s still very early on in the development phase and is likely to change over time. It goes without saying that the filler text is no indication of final content.
That’s all for now. I know, we’re purposely keeping details secret, get used to it. There are going to be plenty of surprises come the final launch. Check back in a few days for the blog post on UI design. I promise it’ll be long-winded and full of interesting tidbits.
Twitter Username - Lycanstrife
Hi there, Gareth here.
First, a quick introduction as to who I am and what part I play in the development of Astro-Nought.
I graduated at Bangor University with a degree in Theatre and Media Studies. I like Acting, and all the different mediums through which one can act (so theatre, film, audio, games, etc). I enjoy writing fiction, but am a little shy to reveal my work. I have some experience with programming, and I am enthusiastic about video games. I like to think of myself as a creative person, so this project is very much within my “field”.
Right, now that’s out of the way!
As we are a small team working on Astro-Nought, job titles which are usually thrown about in game production, (Lead this, Manager of that) are lost in the ether. We all delve into different aspects of the development, so one minute we can be thinking about the lore of the underpinning universe, the next we’re looking at the narrative of the game and then even what software / game engine should be used (realism, do we want a realistic look or a stylized feel).
In this post I would like to focus a bit on Character Creation (hence the title).
I am a great believer in crafting a story by first creating the characters within the story. So Matt was describing to me his vision of how the game would look from an artistic direction i.e. Art Deco and the 1950′s take on the future / science fiction. As he did, I instantly started thinking of the classic depiction of robots ala Robbie the Robot from “Forbidden Planet” (1956), the Maria robot from “Metropolis” (1927) (the inspiration for C3PO) and also the style of Robot used in the more recent film “Robots” (2005) which clearly draw upon their aforementioned predecessors.
These designs are the basis for how bipedal robots continue to be represented throughout science fiction. Even going as far as inspiring the creation of real bipedal robots, such as the Honda Asimo. Note the stereotype ‘bad’ knee joints.
As I was thinking about these designs, and the kind of environment they would be set in, I started thinking about different roles which robots play in fiction, such as cleaning, bar tending, cooking and other tasks often associated with servitude. The tasks that humans would no longer need to do, so naturally I transposed the stereotypical personality traits of people who work in these fields onto the robots, humanizing them (not a new idea I know, I hasten to add). I also thought about what might happen if, after a time, Robots decided that they weren’t happy with … (Ooh boy Gareth, rebellious robots? Really? That’s not a new idea either.) … with the names designated to them by humans. (Oh, how incredibly British, carry on…) Thanks… So I started to think of names which perhaps sounded like they were originally designations and that had evolved into something that the Robots felt suited their personalities.
For example, one I am quite proud of is Clearing Bot One becoming Claire Ingbotton. Instantly, a kind of British character stereotype leaps to my mind, possibly even with a Northern Accent, like “Frasier” actress Jane Leeves. This robot is very prissy, and regimented about her job, keeping on top of the cleaning and presentation of her environment. But her name also suggests (to me at least), that she has a sunny disposition toward most things and rather than being purely a cleaning machine, she might even take the time out to chat to you about the latest gossip aboard ship, or chat away about “…the state of Earth politics these days. Unbelievable!“. Nothing changes…
As my inspiration for design, I thought of elements of the design featured in “Robots” (2005), i.e. ball joints at flex points and thin tubular-like limbs.
Also, certain elements of the design would be based on the duties of a particular robot. For example, does the robot require legs to perform the tasks it carries out? The answer with Claire is yes, as she might have to enter an environment which contains many obstacles on the floor that she will have to be able to navigate. The style of her construction, might be tailored to suit her job, such as the shape of her head emulating a head-kerchief and either incorporating an apron into the design or simply wearing one.
In Robots (2005), the characters are constantly in need of replacement parts, which they would improvise from scrap if the designed part was not available. This idea also appeals to me, so it is something I might try to incorporate into the story of Astro-Nought. Perhaps even as a mission objective, “find a replacement head for bot so-and-so” ala Kryten from the sci-fi comedy series “Red Dwarf”.
Needless to say, the ideas have been overflowing onto paper and computer screens here for some time, though I think in future I might leave the sketching and final robot designs to our tame graphic designer, I’m looking at you, Matt!
Tune in next time for some more Astro-Nought ness!
Claire Ingbotton (Formally Clearing Bot One) can be heard saying:
“I can’t even begin to imagine what condition that office is in. I shudder to think… Well I don’t shudder really, but my cleanliness chip goes into emergency shutdown”
Check Back soon!…
Astro-Nought is a web browser game that takes you on an adventure through space. A simple statement about what we hope to create. Now, bear in mind how many of my favourite things that statement encompasses…
I love the web.
I love to play games.
I dream of adventure.
I’m fascinated with space.
Throw in Lego, Spielberg movies and dinosaurs and you’ve basically got the ‘joy’ section of my brain. (As you can probably tell, I’m unlikely to ever ‘grow up’).
I like to think that any endeavour backed by passion and enthusiasm has a very real chance of succeeding. Part of the reason for this development blog is to convey how much this little web browser game means to us, in the hope that our passion and enthusiasm can be shared with as many people as possible. In a daft example, I like to think that someone could play through the finished game, walk down a corridor in the space station and stop, pause, and think “These creaking gantries are really realistic” or “I wonder what’s behind that rusty-looking bulkhead” or “I really like that peeling space academy poster”.
I hope that people will take the time to look at all the little details, because rest assured, there will be an awful lot of detail in there. (Poster-appreciation might be asking too much of a casual player). It’s obvious that anyone would want their efforts to be noticed. However, I’ll be happy as long as people are enjoying the game any way they can.
On the subject of posters though, our Astro-Nought research folder is full of them! The vintage travel posters of the 1920′s – 1930′s that boldly promise adventure and romance. The dynamic colours and slogans that loudly proclaim far-flung exotic locations, never-before visited, but now available for you to explore.
They range from cities, countries, vast wildernesses and nature reserves, to new forms of luxury travel; high-speed trains, colossal zeppelins, White-Star cruise liners. They hail from a time since past. When much of the world seemed new and unexplored. Mysteries and adventures were yours for the taking if you were daring enough.
I particularly love this style of poster when it’s applied to the future of space travel. The gleaming rockets and launch platforms, planets and moons shining in the vast inky blackness, smiling heroes clutching their helmets and gazing up at the stars. It compliments space travel so perfectly. The ‘vintage travel poster’ is such a great medium for conveying emotion, you can’t help but feel as though our attitude to travel is a lot more mundane these days. I think that excitement is something we’ve sadly lost.
There’s a chap called Steve Thomas who’s designed a full set of Star Wars-themed travel posters and they’re totally awesome! At first glance, you could easily mistake them for authentic 1920′s and 30′s pieces, until you begin to notice the landspeeders, tauntauns, and star destroyers. Check out the set here.
Also, if you’re interested, take a look here for some more information on vintage travel posters. Included are quite a few of my personal favourites: “Palestine Line”, “Cote d’Azur”, and “Alaska”.
So that’s an in-depth look into one of my side interests. I’ll leave you with my favourite poster design of all. Not strictly a ‘travel poster’ per say (and certainly not styled in the 20′s and 30′s), but definitely one that’s heavily inspired Astro-Nought. No prize for guessing where this particular poster comes from…
Twitter Username – Lycanstrife
I figured the point of having a development blog was to keep it updated with development. So with that aim in mind, I give you… an extremely early animation test.
Although there’s still a long way to go, I thought it’d be interesting to show how the art direction had taken inspiration from both Bioshock AND Disney’s DiscoveryLand. I’m very settled on the mis-match of themes now so don’t expect to see much deviation in terms of art direction.
As far as animating is concerned, I’m by no means an expert. I was very eager to convey the atmosphere I was going for though (which is very tricky with flat 2-D artwork) so I dived head-first into AfterEffects. I just about managed what I was after, but it took a while, gave me a massive headache, and still wound up clunkier than I’d have liked. Suffice to say, we’ll be hiring a professional a bit further down the line.
I’m aware the quality isn’t stellar, but it’s only a very quick test. Here’s the welcome text a little clearer, in case you were curious and couldn’t make it out in the video:
I find it odd that a theme park attraction could end up influencing the art direction of a game like Astro-Nought. Not even one attraction, but an entire section of a theme park.
If you’ve ever visited Disneyland Paris chances are that you’ve wandered around DiscoveryLand, the Jules Verne inspired, Victorian-steampunk-esque, science fiction section of the park. Ever since visiting as a child, DiscoveryLand has had a special place in my heart.
Everything is themed meticulously; burnished copper, girders, astrolabes, flags, rivets, latticed glass-work, railings, hisses of steam, turning gears and cogs. You really feel as though you’ve strolled right into the golden age of science fiction.
It’s this complete immersion that I’m so captivated by. The ability to completely remove someone from their world and drop them into another. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally analyse theme-parks as I walked around them, trying to absorb all the detail and effort it must’ve taken to create such fantastical worlds.
I was sat at my desk a few weeks ago trying to pin down the art direction for Astro-Nought, and had spent hours trawling through space / sci-fi images, when I started wondering what I loved most about the genre. It wasn’t the lasers or aliens, or even the flying through space. It was the more old-fashioned elements; adventure, discovery, the copious use of internal environments due to a lack of budget for grand shots of stars and planets.
So I sought out, what was arguably my first experience of science-fiction, the DisneyLand Paris version of DiscoveryLand. It didn’t take long before I knew how pivotal it would be in our own art-direction. I mean, LOOK at these pieces of concept art! They are absolutely gorgeous!
It’s that victorian steam-punk aesthetic that just encapsulates the wonder of science and industry so perfectly. In my opinion, a truly wonderful design choice.
A Disney Imagineer called Tim Delaney is responsible for most of the design and artwork shown here. I’d highly recommend checking out his website for more examples of his amazing work. He’s worked on some truly jaw-dropping posters for the Disney parks too but, for the sake of keeping this post a decent length, don’t get me started on those just now.
You might have noticed the Nautilus in many of the concept pieces above, Captain Nemo’s submarine from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. While gathering images for inspiration I stumbled upon a great blog detailing how the Nautilus in the actual theme-park was built. If you’re interested I highly recommend you check it out.
I love the interior of the Nautilus attraction so much that I might write my own blog post about it. For those of you lucky enough to have visited, you really get that complete immersion I was talking about (and not just because you’re underwater). It’d be easy enough to forget you were on a submarine and transplant the corridors and bulkheads into outer space, on some rusty space-station.
Right! I’ve nattered on for far too long now, so I’ll draw this to a close. Expect to see a steam-punk vibe in Astro-Nought. It will probably be more subtle than much of the concept work shown above, but it’ll definitely be present.
Until next time,
Twitter Username – Lycanstrife
I see things have been ticking along nicely whilst I’ve been away on my holidays. I thought I would post a quick message for all you budding Astro-Noughts. I’m speaking to everyone in whatever role you play in the game – be that player/designer/tester/sponsor/elite super champion of the world.
Here is my message and it’s slightly recycled from the previous post – its about the driving force behind the reason your reading this. Get involved!
In the post below is a picture of one of our desks – it’s where a lot of work gets done as you can probably see! It’s great to have a place where you can sit and relax and come up with ideas for whatever project you’re working on. The most interesting part of a desk is the insight it can give to those looking on.
So here is my challenge – in the comments below post a picture/link or video of your desk and tell us one idea that you have thought of that you have never done anything about.
This blog is designed for you to help us and equally for us to help you! You might meet someone who can help make your idea reality!
Thanks for reading! Tune in next time for more Astro-Nought news!
In space, no one can hear you scream… do you know why?
No. It isn’t because space is a vacuum smarty-pants. It’s because no amount of noise could possibly permeate down every single corridor in space.
During the many hours spent researching space station interior design, I’ve encountered a never-ending stream of corridor after corridor after corridor… they went on forever! Endless variations of bulkheads, ventilation shafts, pipes, archways, grills, vents, lights, handles, the occasional asteroid damaged panel. It seems that every sci-fi film or show worth anything has to have it’s own take on the humble corridor.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s been fascinating to find such devotion lavished on these sets that most people would disregard as unimportant. The attention to detail is apparent in films such as Kubrick’s Space Odyssey and Scott’s Alien franchise. I have quite literally spent hours poring over the set design and being amazed at their genius. The ability to turn something as mundane as a corridor into an iconic piece of cinematic history is nothing short of remarkable.
However, despite the plethora of inspiration to draw upon, I struggled to find any examples of the style we’ve settled on for Astro-Nought. This is good news really. It means our corridors will be just a little different from all those that came before.
These early concepts are more a checklist of set pieces than fully explored designs at the moment. In the example above, our initial take on the corridor is much too similar to an aquarium. The steam punk vibe is present, but there’s no real art deco influence just yet.
At the forefront of my mind right now are the instrument panels and controls. They’re too complex and confused at the moment. We’ll be making a turn towards simplicity and boldness that will reflect across all of the concept art from this point. Hopefully it’ll all start to come together as a more cohesive style.
Anyway, that’s a quick look into what we’re working on right now! We’ll have more concept artwork for you soon. In the meantime though…
… cool points for whoever can recognise the corridor on my screen in the photo at the start of the post.
Twitter Username – Lycanstrife