Monday, April 26, 2010

Book Review - Ballistic Publishing's The Art of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

The Art of Uncharted 2 - book (small)

Hi Everyone!

We primed you on Uncharted and Uncharted 2 with a couple of YouTubes in a previous blog post. It's time to review the actual book from Ballistic: "The Art of Uncharted 2".

First of all, is it an "art book"? Yes. It's packed with art. Most of it is concept art and only some of it is the final product. So, if you were hoping for a book that explores the world of Uncharted 2 with great cinematic shots of the often it-looks-like-a-real-place quality environments, this book probably won't satisfy.

Probably the reason for all the concept art that's packed in this book is the commentary that goes along with it. "The Art of Uncharted 2" is probably more accurately titled "About the Art of Uncharted 2". It's not as nitty-gritty-detailed as Character Modelling 3, which occasionally drills down to the level of settings in the software used to produce various game models and effects. But it does contain a lot of commentary on the key aspects of the visuals in Uncharted 2. Here are a couple of examples:

On Chloe Frazer (p67): "...when you start iconifying the features of a girl that make her more beautiful, you tend to choose similar things like a smaller chin, a more triangular face, and bigger eyes. With Chloe, I tried to push things towards the iconic features of a beautiful woman while trying to keep things real. Female characters are always the most scrutinized, the most challenged, and the most commented upon. One example of things that we considered while building the female characters was to omit the wrinkle maps for them. We have wrinkle maps for faces so when the character emotes you can bring in, for example, the forehead wrinkles, which adds more realness and believability to the characters. Even though it happens with real women, when we tried it with Chloe and Elena, they looked a little creepy. So you always have to walk the tightrope with female characters."

On Shambala (p193): "... so I thought, let's take the base of a pyramid and wedge a square into it, and then give it an almost more Indian-style roof treatment. ... It combined elements in a unique way to make something that felt like it was somewhere new and undiscovered. That addressed the question of "What are we going to do to make this thing look wondrous and unique, but also believable?"

There's a lot of art in this book, and the commentary really adds insight and depth into what you are seeing, to make it more than a mere collection of artwork from game development. On Environments, Art Director Robh Ruppel comments (p91), ""Okay, we have a room with a hallway, that leads into another room. How can we make this interesting?" that's when we start doing the research and gathering reference. We'll do a few thumbnails, a few color sketches, talk it over with the designers and game director, and establish an emphasis for what needs to be conveyed. What do we want the player to feel here? What's going on here emotionally? Where are we in the story?... we just always want the visuals to enhance what's going on with the emotional beats of the story and gameplay. So if the design or goals change in a particular level, I have to make sure that the visuals are also in sync and doing their job."

One of the things you'll probably take away from reading The Art of Uncharted 2 is that being able to draw is not enough. When you take wider considerations into account, being able to draw starts to be dime-a-dozen.
This book, then, is probably more for artists, especially artists thinking about going into the gaming industry. If you just love the world of Uncharted, or are hoping for lots of pictures of the hotties Chloe and Elena (and there are a few excellent, very-high-quality and high-detail renders of the key characters), you may want to flip through the online book previewer first.

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