When I have the chance to talk to a professional in the sector it is always a pleasure.
Through mutual acquaintances I had the opportunity to interview Alexandre Chaudret, art director of Lord of the Fallen and we had a wonderful chat about the game and experiences.
Q: I've played LOTF and one of the things that strikes you at first glance is the richness and detail of the environments. Can you tell us how long it took to make?
A: The whole production lasted around 3 years and a half, but of course all this time was not dedicated to creating the art assets - even if the decision of pushing details was an early pre-production direction. One of my axes for the art direction was to represent torment and madness by “accumulation”, like those hundreds of candles or roots invading our environments. The incredible art team we have at Hexworks created and assembled the assets mainly during the production phase, up to the end of the project.
Q: It's possible to switch between worlds and it's one of the most fascinating mechanics. Where LOTF's idea of the double map came from, as well as a question of lore. What is the creative choice behind this mechanic that you had to make?
A: The actual idea of the Umbral Realm came very early in the vision of the project - Saul and Cezar wanted to add a twist to the legacy of the Lords of the Fallen universe, and not rely exclusively on the confrontation of Orius (radiant god of light) and Adyr (fallen demonic god of fire). Umbral came along with this desire to bring a new breath to the “death loop” of the action-rpg genre, as well as reinforcing the exploration aspect. I remember in our early discussions about Umbral, Cezar was describing it like “a place where you suffocate, where it’s hard to stay because you don’t just can’t live in it”. Those were the premises of our future “Garden of Death”, and the spectral cosmic horrors that lurk between realities.
Q: How difficult was it to make two game maps on top of each other, not only in terms of gameplay, but also in terms of art design
A: It took a lot of iterations, that’s for sure ! From the get go, we wanted an interconnected world, bringing back the great emotion of opening a shortcut and discovering that you circled back to another part of the realm. Adding the Umbral realm on top of it created as many possibilities than challenges, in terms of level-design of course but also in terms of art. We needed to have a contrast between the gruesome tormented world of the living, which was already a very dark fantasy place, and the world of the dead. The Lovecraftian cosmic horror was our solution : we pushed for an organic and macabre aesthetic, relying on clay, flesh and bones, with huge structures that defy the laws of physics. The main idea was to provoke some “what the…?” moments for the players when they raise their lamp and observe the Umbral realm through this magic keyhole.
Q: How many people worked on the game and whether you asked for external support of any kind for certain elements.
A: The Hexworks 'team counted around 80 devs, and we had good support of external outsourcing teams to bring the project to a final stage with all its content.
Q: What was your first request when you first started diving into the world of LOTF
Haha, on my end, I think it was to “fix the limits” : I needed to know quickly how much we could dive into darkness and torment, and what were our limits in terms of fantasy. Basically how gruesome can I go, and what kind of emotions we want to transpose and express for the players. All this because emotions are, in my opinion, the tools to provoke immersion.
One thing I always say to the art team when we start working on a project, and it became a bit of a mantra through the years : “we are here to create a game, not an artbook”. It is very important for me to keep focus on the end goal, making a video game, and not just accumulating pretty images for a folio. I think it’s crucial for the whole team to look in this common direction.
That said, I think I am now nothing more than the guy that asked to add more skulls, candles and blood everywhere haha.
Q: The game boasts a remarkable level design, how difficult was it to create and how did you go about making the connections?
A: Level Design is at the center of a lot of areas of work during development : it connects the whole world together, but also defines the pacing of the game, the sizes of the arenas, the rhythm and game-feel of the players journey… we can say it’s a huge task ! There is no other way to go : multiple iteration loops of gray boxing, testing , retaking, and redoing again and again.
On the art side, one of the aspects that became crucial was to establish visible landmarks, for the player to see (but also feel) where he had to go - and when we wanted him to get lost. Top this with the Umbral realm, and it was a lot of thought (and sweat) that were put in this domain of work !
Q: What did you enjoy making the most?
A: Eating pepperoni pizza.
Sorry, sorry, that’s always my first natural thought, sometimes I just become a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ! There are actually so many things I loved working on this project… I was blessed to be able to paint and create myself some of the designs that ended in game, a luxury that art directors can’t always afford. I think my deepest guilty pleasure is to see some of my armors and outfits being super popular among the players, like the Angel of Void skeleton set. In those designs there are some more “personal” art designs choices that I could apply, and I always love to see so many skull warriors hanging out in the game !
I think what I enjoyed the most was actually “making” things with a great team, and partners that become friends. I can’t quote them all here, but a lot of the Hexworks' team members are now buddies in addition to great workmates !
Q: Tell us an anecdote that happened during the development phase (e.g. the creation of a character that was not calculated and turned out to be interesting)
Okay, here is a funny detailed story : we have one NPC character, Andreas of Ebb, a pretentious noble with a high esteem of himself. When we designed the character from sketch to final concept art, we tried to really push this pretentious look and highly rich outfit and design.
I can’t remember who initiated the joke, but… at some point I sketched a mustache on the art, just for fun. And… Everyone just loved it !
So that’s how Andreas got his very distinguished and elegant mustacho !
Q: Question as a gamer, what are the titles of your childhood and do you consider them among the best for you.
A: Even though I had a Gameboy for a long time, my first real console was the Nintendo 64, and the one game that really brute force shocked me was Zelda : Ocarina of Time (and further along the sequel Majora’s Mask). So much inspiration for the young kid I was !
Actually, another game of this era built me, even if it was a much less famous game : Castlevania 64 and Legacy of Darkness - the game was far from perfect, but I was so much inspired by it, and the music, and…. aaaaaah so many memories flashing back !
But one of the games I often refer to, being one if not my favorite game of all time, is Vagrant Story on PS One. I just had a special connection with this project, the art, the music, the systems… It remains one of those special gems I keep coming back to and referring to. It opened my eyes on how a game could be at the same time profound, deep and meaningful in it’s symbolism and narration, while remaining on the tropes of fantasy and epic “knights fighting monsters”. A masterpiece in my little heart !
Q: Which artists and art designers have been inspirational to your work and inspired you to undertake this work
A: I always live alongside the mangas and comics that I discovered in my childhood - they followed my career and journey through Arts from the very beginning, and inspires me still everyday. Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya, Gunnm, Blame… but especially Berserk from the regretted Kentaro Miura : a bible for any creator of dark fantasy, I guess.
For the Umbral part of the game, we dragged our inspirations from grand masters like Giger or Beksinski, the hell-crafters of our nightmares. The incredible work of the sculptor and performer Olivier de Sagazan was a pivot point in the elaboration of the world of the dead : his approach of tormented characters made of argyle brought the first sparks of what would become our flourishing garden of death.
Q: Now I'll ask you a tricky question: many believe that LOTF resembles the From Software worlds too much and this is clearly not the case, what do you think is unique about the realized world?
A: Dark Fantasy comes with common tropes - it is a matter of using traumatisms and transposing them into medieval fantasy aesthetics. It is not an easy balance to create, where you must add enough novelty to attract players but at the same time respect the common fantasies they are expecting.
If we rely on references at first, we soon find our own codes and articulate the art direction around them.
I am myself a kid that grew up in an occidental country (France), but was fed with Japanese mangas, American horror movies and much more. I think all those influences show in Lords of the Fallen, and makes it a unique product that can stand on its own. The transposition we made over religious symbolisms, mixed with cosmic horror aesthetics, and a spice of gruesome spikes, thorns, and crucifix brings a flavor that many players enjoyed and still discover day after day. Each of our armors are damaged, rusted, and show that living in our world is a long inextricable battle.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start your business?
A: One of the greatest things about being in the art field is that everything you saw, experienced, felt, lived through or survived can feed your inspiration and art. I am a strong user of past traumas and pleasures of my childhood, and transpose those in my art. It basically means that the more you experience things, the more your art will progress !
So… be true to yourselves, work hard and bring new stories to resonate with your audience !
Q: What are the next titles you have in the works and what are they about? Those that can be revealed.
A: We are currently focused on updating the game and adding new content for our community, bringing the project to the best state it can achieve. I think it is not the last time you will hear of the Lords of the Fallen universe, and I hope I will be part of it !
You can find the interview translated into Italian on the pages of GameXperience.it