Slow Blade Systems

Slow Blade Systems is a one-man indie game development studio. Its debut project is a physics-based building and simulation game called "Aloft - Airship Pioneers" which is focused on the era of airship travel.

Aloft Dev Log 7: Dapper Dirigibles

The Christmas break not unexpectedly slowed progress on Aloft, but I have still been quietly badgering away and have been back working on it properly in the last couple of weeks. At this point I have finished writing up the design and technical documents covering the airship building/functionality which I showed in the last dev log, and I am currently working on one last prototype - the intent of which is to prove out at least one practical method for rendering the flexible canvas skins of the airships. More on that in future.

Anyway, I mentioned a few months ago that I was getting starting to work towards defining an art style for the game. To begin with, I started to collect examples of art that I thought fit into one of several broad categories that might be suitable for Aloft. I collected these on a separate Pinterest board for each style, which allowed me to comment on each example and easily share them with artists.

The first style, and the one I actually thought I was most likely to use, is a heavily dithered pixel art look - which I fondly remembered from games such as UN Squadron for the SNES.

(You will need a Pinterest account to properly view the following links, I'm afraid.)

Pixel Art Pinterest

The second style I considered was a more painterly and slightly abstract style. Aside from looking nice my hope here was also that art in that style would be relatively quick to make, and thus ease the burden of producing the large volume of terrain tile art I will eventually need.

Painterly Art Pinterest

The final potential style is what I call the "vintage aviation" style. This is based on lots of old oil on canvas paintings of heroic WW2 fighter planes etc... as well as the kind of finely detailed illustrations you would find in older reference books about aircraft.

Vintage Aviation Pinterest

So, I sent these around to a few dozen artists I found via, and asked them which style they felt most comfortable with. As it turns out, only a handful had any experience with pixel art, which isn't too surprising, and of those none of them jumped out as being able to execute quite what I was after. There were plenty of candidates for the other two styles however, so I had to whittle it down to one each for the painterly and the vintage style, based on their various portfolios, quotes and interest/familiarity with airships.

Anyway - here are the finished pieces they produced! Both of these were created following guidelines that meant they matched most of the restrictions placed on the final rendered game e.g. the backgrounds are composed of layers to permit parallax scrolling effects. Click for larger versions:

Early non-rigid airship, racing type, in the painterly style. This one is by a chap called Thomas Bagshaw.  Portfolio here.


Mid period rigid airship, navigating a stormy coastline, in the vintage style. This one is by one Alec Beals. Portfolio here.

I'm very pleased with how both turned out, and although I'm not fully decided on the details yet, I think it is quite likely I will cherry pick parts of each style and try to integrate them together for the final style - the strong lines of the vintage style airship are probably most suitable for clearly communicating an airship's design to players, but the hand painted clouds in the painterly style perfectly sell the romance of sailing through the skies.

Would love to hear comments and thoughts!