Sunday, January 29, 2017

Low camera angles in adventure game scenery

The traditional way of drawing adventure game graphics - certainly in the 'point and click' era - is a fairly eye level approach. Earlier parser games often had a slightly higher camera angle to facilitate the '3-D' worlds which allowed players to walk off the screen to the north, south, east and west. Some games of the point & click style retained elements of this, but most of them are closer to the angle showed in Simon the Sorcerer 2 above. It's a handy way to handle animations, show the world, and the eye level approach is pretty immersive. All in all, it's a practical, useful angle to work with.

Sometimes, though, it doesn't quite convey what an artist wants, and so they'll shift the camera angle up or down to give different aesthetics to a scene. I'm going to split my examination of this effect into two different posts, one for low angles and one for high angles, because the number of examples would, otherwise, become somewhat overwhelming. I'll start with mild examples and proceed to more extreme ones through the post.

This shot from Day of the Tentacle uses the effect quite simply to enhance the size of the sculptures in the room. Well known for its wonky take on perspective, here the game utilizes this nicely to enhance the visual impact of these statues. It's a nice way to add some mass and visual impact to the form.

A very mild example of a low camera angle, this shot from Sam & Max Hit the Road places us on top of a tall structure. Keeping the camera angle somewhat low (notice how we see the underside of floors, rather than the actual floors themselves) helps to give the illusion that we're up high. This is something low and high camera angles are particularly good at - indicating danger or uncertainty, by giving a sense of scale or height beyond the standard.

They can also simply use that sense of scale to make a scene feel more impressive through sheer size, such as in this shot from Universe. The massive amounts of ceiling shown give a sense of huge scale, aided by how far back the scene recedes. There's still plenty of floor visible, but by giving such a sharp sense of perspective, we can really appreciate the height to which the ceiling extends.

This sort of shot from The Dig, showing the ceiling and the floor to such extents, can really show the power of what feels like slightly warped perspective. Because we can take in so much of both planes, it feels like the camera is zoomed far back, with that massive ceiling looming above showing how this sort of angle can feel huge and intimidating.

Here's an interesting example from Full Throttle, where the road is the main element we're interested in, in terms of playability, but the cave itself is the most interesting part of the scene. Making so much of the scene taken up by the cave wall and ceiling really makes for a much stronger scene than focusing on the road, as older games often did. Interestingly, this camera angle feels slightly higher than the previous scene, despite arguably showing less "floor", because the camera feels closer to the action and the ceiling isn't immediately apparent.

Here's a great example where the artist used quite extreme distortion of perspective to give the impression of a low camera. There's a massive amount of ground - about half of the scene, allowing for a lot of walking around, but as the shot recedes the lines converge more and more, like a fisheye lens. This allows the structure in the distance to loom nicely, a strong, foreboding form made more powerful by this distortion that gives the illusion of a rather low camera.

A closer look at the same structure shows a more pure take on perspective, this time with a genuinely low camera angle with the minimum of ground shown. The structure looms impressively, with Graham appearing tiny relative to that massive doorway, and the stone pillars towering above him. This is a great way to make an otherwise quite plain scene visually striking.

Again with the camera pulled back, and the perspective distorted, is this scene from Simon the Sorcerer 2. The castle looms imperiously, reinforced by the circle of sky being completely hemmed in by the surrounding rock mass, making the impression of 'looking up' even more believable. This kind of technique is great for establishing shots like this, as they don't have to worry about being playable, freeing the artist up to play with elements such as this to their heart's content. Particularly nice in a subtle way here is the structure off to the left, which helps to reinforce the strong perspective by showing another plane not very visible from the main structure.

This great shot from Curse of Enchantia once more uses a wonderfully warped perspective to help the scene feel tall and oppressive. This sort of technique works particularly well when dealing with a magical place, such as this, as the unreliable sense of perspective really helps the place feel unnatural and gives a sense of uneasiness. Coupled with the looming architecture, the effect is quite powerful.

This sort of shot is also great for showing a descent - this scene from The Dig starts from the top and moves downwards, giving us the illusion of watching the characters descend from a fixed camera at the bottom of the chasm. This feels more dynamic and interesting than a straight descent, helping to increase tension by suggesting a great height that they have to descend from.

Another great example of such a descent is this shot from Discworld. The super low camera, mixed with an unusual angle that almost gives a sense of vertigo, makes the scene seem perilous and unsteady, as well as enhancing the magical and unpredictable nature of the Unseen University this shot is taken from. It's also the second playable scene in the game, making for a great introduction to the setting.

This type of shot always works powerfully for an ascent, as well as a descent. This scene from Loom sees us looking up from having ascended to this height, and does another great job of conveying the sense of height. Whether used to show an ascent, or descent, this low angle conveys height/depth wonderfully. The effect is almost dizzying in this particular shot.

A really good example, once more of a descent, this shot from Monkey Island 2 shows us almost directly beneath a boat, looking up as Guybrush dives into the water. This scene helps to convey the depth of the water beautifully, and after his descent ends in a shot from a high camera angle to sell the depth even more. Lucasarts games employed this effect numerous times in games like The Dig and Full Throttle, and it's well worth seeing in motion to really see how the effect works.

It's inspiring to see how many artists have used this technique in their work to give this sense of scale, foreboding and visual impact to their scenery. Being able to convey great size or distance without relying on making the player character smaller is wonderfully empowering, and I love seeing this in play. I also love to see just how far some artists push it in their works, and what they can achieve with such strong approaches. Although games often call for practical, eye level compositions, breaking this tradition periodically works great, and is a handy technique to be aware of when planning out scenery for your projects!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Orange-blue traditional complementary palettes in scenery

I've examined two of the three examples of traditional 'complementary palettes' in adventure game scenery so far, so it's time to look at one of the most popular and useful combinations, that being blue and orange. This might be the most common example of using these traditional palettes, due to its versatility in night scenery, but there's plenty of applications that put interesting twists on the formula, and it's well worth studying them.

This example from King's Quest 6 shows how the cool blue of the main structure is warmed up by the firelight cast by the torch, with the pile of skulls behind the figure a grimy orange, all of which is framed by blue spines and ribs in the far distance. The blue of the figure and his chair is sickly and cold, reminiscent of death, most appropriately, and the warmth of that torchlight makes the scene feel more dramatic - though the blue of the backdrop could be the blue of a summer sky, torchlight wouldn't have the same radiance in such conditions.

This scene from Once Upon a Forest shows a much less warm orange light - here it feels more natural, and sunny because of the less saturated hues, that make it feel like sunlight lighting up wooden material, rather than a direct orange light hitting a surface. The blues work well to give the impression of a cool, shadowed interior, and help the warmer sections to stand out nicely.

Another sunny scene, here from Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Here the shadows go to black rather than blue, but the sky is a lovely, airy blue that helps to offset the darkness of the stone features. The sand also breaks up the dark rocks nicely, allowing those darker segments to act as nice framing and texturing devices among the lighter areas.

Again we see blue sky and orange ground, but this scene from Full Throttle feels less airy and more dusty. The orange dirt feels less like the sand of the previous scene, and more like the barren soil of an American desert. The sky is a gloomier shade, heavier and darker, and the stone features, where coloured, are a sun-baked reddish orange that feels hot and dry.

Moving to an interior from Full Throttle, we see a cavern given a dank, gloomy feel by means of those dark blues in the distance, bringing to mind the cool shade of a cave. The orange-brown foreground features stand out nicely, making the scene clear to read, and reinforcing the red, desert rock of the area (as opposed to the grey stones we saw earlier) without being too warm so as to feel brightly lit. A very clear division in hues like this makes the scene very easy to read.

Another example of a cave with blue in the distance and orange in the foreground is this scene from The Dig. The rich ultramarine of the distance feels mysterious and otherworldly, and the warm orange of the foreground feels dangerous and eerie - the hidden lightsource coming from directly below is from the opposite direction we expect sunlight, making it feel somewhat 'off'. Interestingly, Maggie's orange suit means she blends in with the foreground hues, meaning the dark values behind her, and the fact that she animates while in this web, are needed to make her stand out clearly.

Dune's sietches, on the other hand, are almost wholly orange, with no blue distant light to add a sense of depth - however, unlike Maggie's orange suit, you can see here how the blue eyes of the Fremen stand out, and catch our attention. This example is particularly powerful because of the blue stillsuit - though many Fremen have brown or green stillsuits, the blue eyes are a constant, that jump out wonderfully against all the warm colours.

From mostly warm hues, to mostly cool - here the shadowy, mysterious blue of the voodoo museum is broken up in just a couple of places by the warm glow of lighting. This is particularly effective in the foreground, where the skull and mask are made that much more eerie by the warm lights hitting them from the side and below.

Another great use of orange highlighting in a blue environment is this scene from Gateway, in which the orange face and hands of the figure really pop against the deep blue backdrop. The high levels of saturation in both colours really give this a neon drenched, science fiction feeling, particularly the way the skin of the face is shaded to a very unusual colour for skin.

This similarly futuristic scene from The Koshan Conspiracy is much earthier in tone, but the slight blue tint to the lights helps to make them look more unique than the white or warm lights we're used to seeing in an interior. The use of blue here is very minimal, but the rays of light travelling down are just blue enough to make them really feel bright against the orange tones of the backdrop.

This scene from The Secret of Monkey Island shows the opposite - very deep, saturated blues contrasted with warm yellow-orange lighting. This warm lighting is reminiscent of lamp and candle light, much more suitable for a game set in the era of pirates that the blue lights of the previous two scenes, and it really breaks up the deep blues nicely. The blue feels quite naturally nocturnal, despite being much more saturated and bright than a real world night scene would be.

If the oranges are kept quite saturated, but the blues are stripped of saturation, we get a much lighter feel, such as in this shot from Willy Beamish. The pale blues help detail the kitchen through the archway nicely, and also help it feel far from us, as well as breaking up the oranges nicely throughout the rest of the scene.

This example has the orange very saturated, and almost red in places, and the blue warm enough to be teal in spots - it's almost reaching the red and teal combination of the scene from Conquests of the Longbow I looked at two posts ago. This shows the great contrast setting deep oranges and reds above pale blues gives, with wonderful readability in the forms as a result. A really interesting use of the colours.

And with that, my examination of traditional complementary palettes in adventure game scenery is complete. There's plenty of other examples, of course, but I've tried to find a wide variety of uses that show many different effects artists have managed to achieve by using these palettes. It's a fascinating and educational subject, and I hope you enjoyed studying these scenes!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Yellow-purple traditional complementary palettes in scenery

Last week I looked at red-green colour palettes, this time I want to look at one of the other two traditional 'complementary' colour palettes.

As a comment pointed out last week, the use of the term 'complementary' for these palettes is somewhat outdated, as the modern colour wheel is a bit different to the traditional one teaching red, yellow, blue as the primary colours. Nevertheless, all the art books I've read, and all the art folks I know refer to these as complementary, so I'm going to refer to these as 'traditional complementary palettes' for now until a better way of describing them comes along. The colour wheel they're based on may be outdated, but these are still some of the most popular 2 hue colour palettes.

The Dig is a great example of several variations on this idea. Here we see a vivid purple foreground and a vivid yellow backdrop, with dark purple and dusty reds and oranges showing middle grounds nicely. The rich colours give the scene a classic 'science fiction' feeling of an alien world, and really pushing their saturation is a great way of spicing up natural looking forms to look both spectacular and memorable. Yellow rimlights also help to delineate forms nicely. I love this particular use of yellow, having the reds in between the two colours really makes the scene glow.

Another example of using reds between the two colours to give a warm glow is this scene from Shannara. The yellow candles not only warm the scene up, but also help to distinguish foreground forms, such as the human figure who sports his own personal yellow purple palette. Interesting to see how the spines of the books are hit with purple as though it was a hidden light source, despite the fact that nothing else reveals the presence of any purple light source. This may have simply been a way to tie them more closely into the scene's tight palette.

A much more exaggerated example of a red between the yellow and purple is this scene from Sam & Max. The red is so prominent here that I wouldn't call this a yellow/purple palette, but it's interesting to see how shifting the balance changes things. The purple here feels more like a background element, hitting shadows and distant object more than anything else, but it's still vivid enough to feel memorable. An odd colour combination that helps this scene feel suitably bizarre.

From a warm purple to a cool purple, The Dig once again provides another example of this combination. The yellow in the distance looks quite welcoming, from the rather alien purple in the foreground, and can be used two ways - if we were walking in from the yellow background into the purple foreground, it could feel like entering from a 'safe' location into an uncertain one. If we were going from the purple foreground to the yellow background, it could feel like leaving a potentially dangerous place into the welcoming safety of sunlight. I particularly like how the yellow hits the edges of forms here, helping to show distance and delineate form.

Similarly cool purples are present in this scene from King's Quest 6. Once again, the purple feels slightly mysterious compared to the yellow middle ground, but here it represents strange objects such as a skeleton, a crystal ball and a suit of armour, and the area in which we can walk is all yellow and 'safe'. This bluish purple helps to offset the many yellows and the whole scene has a light, airy feel that's framed nicely by these slightly darker, cooler foreground elements.

By making the yellow less vivid, or 'saturated' and making the cool purple more vivid we get a nice futuristic feel, as in this shot from Gateway. Because purple isn't a common colour for a natural light source, nor is it common for ordinary, everyday lighting, showing such a cool purple as a light really gives the scene a feeling of advanced technology. The same applies for the yellows - we're used to yellow lighting being quite warm and vivid, whether from the sun or electric lighting, and showing it in such a stark, cool form as a light makes it feel sterile and artificial. A great way to help establish a science fiction setting.

Science fiction is also well suited by warmer colours when dealing with more natural environments, though - this shot from The Dig has a sunny, warm yellow showing the alien sun bearing down on the landscape. This warms the purples up too, particularly where they cast shadows on the distant forms, which gives a strong feeling of ambient light. Once again, however, the lack of saturation in this lightsource makes it feel slightly off - it's too pale and washed out to be a sunset on Earth, which is the time of day the colours and the shadows would suggest, making this look alien and unusual.

By contrast, the yellow highlights in this scene in King's Quest 6 fight to light up an oppressive expanse of deep, saturated purple which feels gloomy and massive. Whereas the yellow in the last shot lit the distant purples right up, here the purple largely reigns, with just a few highlights of yellow here and there. This is helped by the cavernous expanse of black water which sucks up any light the torches shine also.

Between the two extremes lies this middle ground from Gabriel Knight - the purple in the darker areas feels cool and somewhat gloomy, but glows where the yellow fire hits it, warming it right up. This is a nice way of balancing out the cooler, darker areas, by showing not only the yellow light source, but the effect it can have on the purples of the image.

A similar thing can be seen in this shot from Kyrandia - where the sunlight coming in through the window hits the yellows and purples they glow with rich colour, and in the shadowy areas they both have less saturation, showing that the effect works on yellow also. Here the yellow isn't a lightsource, and the deeper colours and darker values make it feel less light and airy than the earlier interior from King's Quest 6. The combination of yellow and purple here also feels quite rich and regal - purple especially brings to mind royalty, or someone important, and the gold decorations would never be seen in a commoner's habitat. A great way to convey status through colour.

One last shot from Kyrandia, here showing a scene with no visible lightsources, but nevertheless one that has light coming from a clear direction. The purple dragon here feels more 'magical' than the more menacing, traditional red, black or green dragons. Purple is an unusual colour to find in nature, and the presence of it in a creature's colourings feels interesting more than a threatening red or black. The purple crystal ball also suggests magic, and the yellowy paper helps to suggest the writings of a wizard in some long forgotten time much more than clean, white paper we're used to seeing would. This is an interesting example of how applying these colours to materials provides insight into the setting.

As we've seen, the purple/yellow combination of colours is great at suggesting certain feelings, and by cooling them down or heating them up we can helps establish particular atmospheres. I love studying how other artists have employed these hues together, and seeing which combinations feel 'right' and trying to work out why. It's a facinating palette, used by many artists, and one well worth experimenting with.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Red-green complementary palettes in scenery

When I'm not sure what colour scheme to paint a scene in one of the nicest palettes to try is a "complementary" palette. This is what artists use to describe a colour scheme where the two main hues are directly opposite each other on the colour wheel:

Red green is one of the palettes I enjoy playing around with when I want to show a dramatic, fantastical scene. Both red and green are quite eerie to use as bold highlights, but both can also be used to show more natural things. Nature has plenty of examples of colours in this configuration that catch our eye - think of red flowers on a green bush.

These exceptional levels of contrast afforded by using directly opposite hues can be very powerful, but it can also be more subtle as well. Not all of the scenes I'll be looking at here are pure red or pure green - some of the greens verge into bluish, some reds are purplish or orangeish. Mainly, I wanted to look at a wide range of examples, to see how different uses of this idea vary in atmosphere, power and contrast.

One of the first examples that sprang into my mind was this section in Kyrandia 2. Red and green aren't the only hues present here, but they work extremely well at highlighting two different features simultaneously. The deep reds and orange highlights of the stream of lava mixed with the vivid green of the crystal features really gives an impression of having stumbled upon some forgotten place. It's a great moment in Zanthia's journey through this magical world, and stands out quite distinctly from the more naturally coloured parts of the game that came before.

Here's an example of a similar situation with a very different approach. Instead of the deep reds of the lava we saw before, here they're a blazing, fiery orange, with scorching yellow and white highlights, and the greenish bridge over it is a much more muted, desaturated grey-green, which stands out perfectly, but not as a feature. In the last scene, our green bridge was the highlight, here it's the lava that's the star of the piece.

Desaturating both colours gives an oppressive, musty feeling like this shot from Beneath a Steel Sky. The red gurney looks uninviting, and the drab green surrounds feel cold and creepy. Everything here looks old and dirty. It's repulsive, even before we get to the figures in the lockers.

The same game uses red and green to indicate new things, too. Here both highlight colours glow, the reds with rich saturation and the greens with harsh white highlights. The reds of the floor and greens of the walls are much more muted, and jump out much less at us than the highlight colours.

Similar glowing green highlights can be seen in this scene from Monkey Island 2, a powerful, harsh green that lights the trees and central structure in a very eerie way, helping to establish the feel of a mystic's dwelling. The reddish-brown building jumps out wonderfully from this green and grabs our attention, not only with hue, but being much deeper in value and saturation than the pale green. It's a great way of developing focus and leading the eye. A few small reddish brown features separate from the main structure in the form of torches on the left side of the image help to balance out the main focal point, too.

This scene from Gabriel Knight shows the roles reversed - here the red is the surrounding colour, feeling rich and aged, and also giving a great impression of somewhere dark and mystical. The green is the highlight feature, drawing our eyes to the crystal ball and firmly establishing what kind of area we're in. Similar to the torches in the last scene, a separate, less important green feature on the right side of the image helps to balance this strong green sitting in a sea of red. It's fascinating that two very similar locations can be given similar treatments with the colours completely reversed for quite similar effect.

Yet another scene with a similar treatment in The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Serrated Scalpel. Here the table takes a back seat, and the crystal ball itself is given a direct green treatment that catches the eye instantly, again with a green lamp off to the right that helps to balance such a strong hue in a sea of opposite hues. The reds here are quite purple in the shadowy areas, giving a rich, luxurious feel. This combination of red and green is excellent for establishing the feeling of a mystic's abode.

Another great example of a mysterious feel with just a few greenish highlights is this shot from Waxworks. Here the highlight colours are a rich teal, with greenish shadows that make them richer, and the reds vary between deep browns and oranges to pure red curtains that frame the shot. The use of the greenish blue highlights here really draw our attention to the points of interest. It's a great way of directing the player's eye to important elements very quickly, establishing a clear narrative in a very short space of time.

More greenish blues can be seen in this scene from Conquests of the Longbow - here the teal takes a back seat while the read becomes a rich highlight. Again we see red curtains, but here the teal is much less saturated next to the super-saturated reds. They help give the feeling of rich decoration, and the focus is mostly directed to the bed and the book with the use of value, rather than hue. It's a wonderfully rich scene.

Finally, this shot from Discworld shows red and blue together in a much more natural setting. The greens here are much more yellow than in our previous two examples, giving the impression of a warm, sunny day. The reds, despite being incredibly saturated, are quite low in value, helping them not feel like too much of a feature, while still highlighting what would, otherwise, be a rather drab, brown door.

I love these colour combinations, and I love seeing how different artists use complementary red-green palettes in different ways, and how it affects their work. It's fascinating to make direct comparisons like this and realize that even with a very specific colour idea, the results can be incredibly different. Complementary palettes are wonderfully bold in their contrast, and this is just one example of the results that can be achieved by using two opposite hues to render a scene.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The visual power of pure form

An exercise I've been doing for the last week, once per day, is to take a piece of background art from the classic LucasArts adventure game Full Throttle and to analyze it in some detail to try and figure out why it looks good. It's the game with my most favourite aesthetic, and the process of attempting to decode the visual language used in it has proven both very satisfactory, and very revelatory. I plan to compile them into a PDF once I've completed the exercise, and I'll post it here for your perusal.

For now, though, I want to focus on a single revelation it has provided me. In preparation for examining one of my favourite scenes, I took a quick look at the background before I started work for the day, just to give myself some time to think about it before I started trying to decipher it in further detail. What I noticed is that the silhouette of the structures in the image was incredibly complex and interesting, considering that what they represented was a fairly simple building, in terms of function. That brief study affected me so much that I spent the entire workday looking forward to tracing that silhouette in the evening, but even so, I wasn't prepared for how incredibly detailed and ornate the result would be. Here's what I ended up with:

It's a wonderfully coherent, yet intensely intricate series of shapes that combine to present a unique and memorable silhouette. As I sat studying the result, a thought emerged: "I'd probably recognize the game and scene that this building was from just by looking at the pure, flat silhouette." The building is, in a word, memorable.

Small thoughts led to another small thought: What other scenes in other adventure games are like this? From this thought developed a hypothesis: It is possible that one of the biggest factors in making a scene or location memorable is the pure form of the shapes within it, and the uniqueness, boldness, and distinctiveness of the silhouette they present, regardless of how they're coloured, textured and lit.

A tough hypothesis to prove, but a simple enough one to examine. I'll look at some scenes from other old games in an attempt to begin exploring the idea.

An easy starting point is the stone monkey head idol from The Secret of Monkey island. It's quite possible that much of the memorable nature of this scene lies in the expression, the rivulets of blood, and the fact that the colour scheme is very dark in an otherwise colourful section of the game. I think, though, that the main factor here is that we're presented with such a recognizable shape.

In terms of complexity, it doesn't compare to the previous scene, however it's probably even more striking because it represents something very easy for us to recognize. The fact that it's so easily identifiable, even without any details, makes this a much easier to remember structure than most of the other locations in the game.

In terms of presenting a single, identifiable silhouette this is probably a step in the other direction. There's no one standout shape here to make the scene easy to call to mind, however the combination of the various structures in this scene is so unique - from the ledge we start the game on, and that imposing structure across the gap, to the twisted, smoking stacks in the distance - that it still feels representative of the power of pure forms.

I feel that some of the power of this scene may stem from the angle of the camera, too, but I'd also suggest that the angle of the camera is a method of dictating how the forms we're represented are translated to the viewer, making this a deciding aspect in the end appearance. If the angle from our Full Throttle scene had been changed to one point perspective, we'd be looking at a very different combination of shapes.

To step into a different genre entirely, here's a look at a screenshot from Blade Warrior. The intensity of detail in these pure silhouettes is breathtakingly powerful - trying to suggest this much detail while also having them lit and coloured would result it a much messier image, with many of the finer details being less noticeable. Because of the high contrast of the pure black over the bright sky, we are able to discern every intricate part of the form.

Because of this, the game is strikingly memorable in appearance. Our mind is very willing to jump in and fill the gaps that a lack of texture and colour leave, telling us very quickly what it is we're looking at.

When it comes to iconic shapes, this tree from the beginning of Loom is a great example. This shape could be drawn in any colour, detailed with any texture and lit in any way and I'm quite positive people would recognize where it's from.

To me, this is one of the most powerful examples of the evocative power of a single, unique design - mention Loom to anybody, and it's a safe bet to suggest they'll think back to this scene and this tree.

Similarly, mention Another World (or Out of This World) to anybody who is familiar with it, and it's highly likely that their mind will think back to this scene. Though the forms aren't quite as distinct as in the previous example, they're still iconic enough to be instantly emblematic of the game.

This is a special case, too, because here we see an example in which the form of a creature is almost as memorable as the location. That shadowy beast, watching ominously from atop a rock, doesn't need any details to be an intimidating presence - its power and its menace are communicated wonderfully via a flat silhouette. The stance speaks volumes about the creature's nature, and its intent, and is another great example of a powerful, memorable shape.

The incredibly simple image shown here in Mindfighter is another great example of effective silhouettes in both scenery and figure. We don't need any colours or textures to see that this is a ruined city, to feel the crumbling walls and ruined homes. A few quite simple, thoughtfully arranged shapes convey all the detail we need to form the full picture in our minds.

The figure atop his mound also conveys a story to us. His stance suggests his character, his frame of mind. We need little more than these few tiny pixels, arranged in this very specific way, to begin forming opinions on his character. Further detail is not really necessary.

It should remain important to remember, though, that details don't discount the strength of a silhouette. This wrecked alien ship from The Dig may be rendered in much more detail, but that doesn't change the fact that it's the pure silhouette of the form that conveys the most interest. The texture and lighting here is mostly just slight enhancement.

What makes this scene truly memorable and recognizable are the unique forms, those elevated structures jutting up on columns above a fairly ordinary spaceship hull. They suggest advanced technology, bring to mind classic works of science fiction, and make us wonder about the sort of people that would construct such a vehicle, just by presenting us with a distinctive form.

It's not just alien shapes that can be made evocative, though, as this shot from Gateway suggests. Here we see a very ordinary group of aquatic plants, but combined in a way that makes them interesting and memorable. Sometimes it's more about how ordinary structures are arranged and placed together that makes a silhouette recognizable and interesting, rather than the structures themselves being particularly unique.

Here, too, we see the angle of the camera playing a large part in how the shapes read, much like the earlier shot from Beneath a Steel Sky. Taken from above the surface, the forms we see here would be much more everyday, less unique, but taken from this angle, we have a wonderfully unforgettable set of forms.

A decent example of how unique form can stand out is this scene from King's Quest V - here we see many trees, but our eyes go instantly to that gnarled, twisted tree that's central to the scene. With this interesting, dynamic shape in the shot, the other trees become little more than window dressing - their absence would be felt, but their presence is hardly noticeable.

By juxtaposing fairly standard shapes with a very unique one, the artist leads our eye to where they want us to look. Some of this is also due to placement, framing, and lighting, but the strongest element here is still that odd, interesting silhouette.

But even when it's not a central placement, interesting forms have their place. The great combination of rocks and odd plant here are great, and quite memorable, even with the most interesting part of the plant being cut off. We don't need to see it all to understand the form of the rest of it, there's just enough of the shape left in the shot that we can understand what makes it interesting.

Combining the various small structures of rocks in such an interesting, curving composition creates a superstructure greater than the sum of its parts, that catches and interests our eye. It's not necessarily the presence of a unique structure that does it, but the combination of smaller structures in an interesting way.

And that brings me back to our Full Throttle scene. There's no one shape in here that's particularly unique or distinctive, it's more the combination of various assorted structures into a single superstructure that - with the camera placed just so, and the elements arranged just like this - is bold, memorable and dynamic.

The colours and textures here certainly help to make the scene evocative and memorable, suggesting various small details such as a wall patched up with spare scrap and a hole in the roof where the light hits a water tank, but for me the real star of the show here is the form, the overall shape. And it makes sense, we're use to dealing with symbols and icons, simplified representations that convey important information to us. Recognizing things just from their shape alone is important to us in daily life.

I think there's a lot of power in these shapes. After thinking about this one building, I've been working harder to ensure the silhouettes present in my own artistic work are more interesting, more dynamic, and the results already have me confident that paying attention to these will improve my work. It's easy to focus heavily on lighting, on textures, on trying to balance colours, but we shouldn't lose sight of the foundation upon which all of these things sit: the pure forms we're working from. That's an incredibly important step, and one that will help take an image to the next level.