The Evolution of Character Art in Viola's Quest — Desperado Diaries

The Evolution of Character Art in Viola’s Quest

This is a story about how the character art in Viola’s Quest has changed throughout the years, from its early beginnings to the art we see now.

Redesigning a character is an important task, and sort of a balancing act. Where you need to “freshen up” the design, but retain all the things people love about them.

TMNT redesigns over time

We found ourselves in exactly the same situation with our game called Viola’s Quest three years ago. We already had a successful game that had been on the market for a couple of years and a main character that needed “freshening up”.

When you have a game that is live, you update it constantly with new interesting events, art and mechanics. Of course, you can not overhaul the whole game, but inch by inch you try and rework stuff that you feel is outdated visually and you know you can do better now. We decided that the biggest visual impact regarding the game would be set on the shoulders of the main characters, who are sort of “the face” of the game. That’s when we made the decision to redesign them.

Reference images

The first thing I did was look at what our competitors did, which visually and thematically at the time definitely was Bubble Witch Saga. And, of course, I looked at the grand scheme of things, like visual styles that are popular and widely appealing, but also something that wouldn’t be connected to the time it was made, so we wouldn’t have to redesign the character again in a couple of years.

When redesigning a character you need to know what characteristics are important for the character to retain. Things that define the character, summed up in key words that we associate the character with. 

For instance, we knew that we wanted the character of Viola to communicate the words such as ‘magic’, ‘nature’, and have an overall tribal feel to it. She was also adventurous and needed to have the main protagonist aura around her.

The first pass of the redesigns. We figured out that she looked too young.

We did a bunch of iterations but finally landed on the favourite, which was that recognizable contemporary Disney cartoon aesthetic. I think it was a perfect fit for the flat colours, that were already predominant in Viola, so the character could have that animated cartoon style feel.

We had an issue in the beginning where we didn’t know our main character’s age, so I may have made her look too young. But, we addressed that issue in the next sketches. We knew some information about the character, but mostly had to add things to her backstory, as we moved along, just to make the character design more cohesive and grounded. For example, I knew I had to incorporate the chakra crystal she had as a necklace, because that’s a vital mechanic of the game.

We had a winner! We went with the second character from the right.

After that I focused on proportions, clothing, hair style and little different design choices. After some iterations, we had a winner! For example, we chose the one with the exaggerated big pony tail, which I think is a really unique silhouette and would be recognizable for the character. We shortened the pony tail a little bit in the next stage, because it would be a little bit too much of a hassle to animate and we didn’t want the focus to be on the hair, but the character.

Next phase was colouring and rendering the character.

Old designs on the left, final designs on the right.

For Viola I chose a similar palette of colours, just made them more distinct. I also added that purple colour in the hair, which was the dominant colour of the game, to make it even more recognizable. In general, the colours are much brighter and saturated to reflect the positive nature and mood we want to convey with the character and the game.

We did the same thing with the side characters and just revamped their looks to the contemporary style. I didn’t want to change the base colours of the characters, because the players already recognized those colours from afar (small mobile screens). I kept the shading the same, with the flat colours just added a little bit of grain in the brush so it doesn’t feel too sterile, and digital.

New Viola

It’s tough to measure the success of a character redesign. Some are better and others worse, it is merely a subjective thing. Of course, there are some principles in design that can make a character better, more readable. Some of those principles we showed here by example. The best way of thinking when redesigning is making it more readable and better at communicating certain things you want to say with the character.

But, all in all, you need to understand the character and connect with him or her. That way, it is going to be easier and a more authentic way of communicating the values and traits of that character to the player.

Danko Dikić, 2D artist