The Art Of… Haven

With Haven, developer The Game Bakers brought us a pair of lovers, Yu and Kay, making a home on a forgotten world. This month Emeric Thoa, creative director, guides us through the influences and creation of the art in this beautiful and heartfelt game

Emeric Thoa, Creative Director

Was the appearance of the game core to its initial concept?

I wouldn’t say Haven is an “art driven” game. Art is one of the three pillars of the game but not “the first pillar.” The biggest pillar was the game experience coming from the gameplay of living a couple’s life (so a mix of dialogs and exploration in Haven’s case). The art and music were also thought from the beginning as elements that must stand out.

Tell us how the art was created and by whom?

There were many different artists with high impact on the final result of the game on Haven. Koyorin designed the characters, their dialogue portraits and a lot of their attitude. Simon Hutt did a lot of the environment concept art and overall art direction. Anthony Beyer, as the technical art director, had a huge influence on the 3D render and all the visual effects. Yukio Takatsu made the opening and ending animations. And many other concept artists or 3D artists or animators worked on the game (Chris Hoareau, Benoit Leloup, Florian Coudray, Marjorie Deneux, Pierrick Kyburz, Lucie Bonzom…). Our internal art team was 4-5 people, but for specific needs, we commissioned artists (like Koyorin or Takatsu Yukio or Florian Coudray). If we feel we need help to achieve something outstanding in a specific area, we don’t hesitate to go look for talents outside of our team.

What influences (within or beyond games) did you draw from?

Because so many different artists worked on the project, the influences can vary a lot. Koyorin is a big fan of Japanese illustrators like Akihiko Yoshida, Shigenori Soejima, Shunsuke Saito, Yuya Nagai. Which is great because I am a fan too!

For Simon Hutt, a strong concept art influence for the environment is the first Star Wars trilogy, especially Ralph McQuarrie’s concepts and Doug Chiang also, for the ship parts and cables.

I also really like the feeling of technology in series like Dragon Ball (or in a way, Ghibli or Akira). It’s the right spot between technology and magic to me. The shapes stay simple but they also feel warm and nice. There’s no fire, just energy. Eventually, one of the biggest influences is just nature, and the feeling of gliding (or skiing) on a mountain slope together.

Can you put any numbers on the scale of the project?

Haven was for sure our biggest project to date in terms of concept art. We created so many art pieces… The game was rebooted after a year, so a lot of Koyorin art has not been revealed, but they produced probably 5 times more illustrations than what is in the final game. Five more characters, portraits, key arts! Just for the loading screens, we have 35 unique pictures of Yu and Kay together. And for the story, we have more than 200 narrative scenes in the game, so more than 200 illustrated storyboards from Benoit Leloup, and then animated in 3D.

What tools/techniques were used to create the game’s look?

We try to stay very simple in our techniques and focus on creating simple shapes, simple textures with little detail. We prefer a stylized look than going more realistic, it fits the idea of creating a fantasy world to me. A big part of the techart work was the work on the grass, which for optimization matters was made entirely with compute shaders. We also created tools to edit the terrain and cables, and although we work in Unity, all the lighting and shading code is custom on our side.

How did the art evolve with the project (if at all)

Well, the game at one point was a point & click exploration game, in 3D but with a point and click exploration mechanic. When we rebooted and added the gliding and terrain it changed the feeling a lot. The planet Source and most of the environment was completely redone and changed at this point.

The 2D art from Koyorin was not affected – except for changes from the reboot, a lot of what had been done was cut from the game, to refocus on a couple’s story.

This is one of the first sketches artist Koyorin made for the game, and it captured very well our intention of showing a relatable relationship and daily couple situations. We kept coming back to this sketch sheet a lot.

 

This keyart made by Koyorin was also a very important one for the game. It’s the concept of a “selfie”, a picture they took when they finally were able to settle and live together on Source. The facial expressions are very in line with the feelgood vibe we wanted for the game

 

After doing a lot of research, we were not satisfied with the cosy look of the inside of the Nest, their home and spaceship. We really wanted it to look like a cosy home, with sci-fi elements but no hard sci-fi. When artist Florian Coudray made this sketch, we said “yes, that’s it, that’s the messy and cozy feeling we want.”

 

This is one of the first screenshots we took from the actual game. It’s a very important one because it shows the 3D render and art direction, the way the narrative scenes are set up, and the 2D layer with character art and UI. The 2D portraits were made by Koyorin, the 3D was made by the efforts of many different people under the tech art direction of Anthony Beyer.

 

Right: This is the first gameplay sequence we revealed. It was almost two years before the release, but it showed the key elements: a very dense blue-green grass, the red-pink crust of rust, the clear sky, and the couple kissing.

 

That screenshot from the game illustrates the game experience pretty well. They are gliding over the ground. A lot of efforts from Anthony Beyer and Chris Hoareau (animation) were invested into making it look smooth and iconic. We see the Nest from outside, and we see the grass. A lot of R&D was made to get the grass like that on consoles.

 

That is a sketch from Simon Hutt Troussellier for the camping sequences in the game. Like for the Nest, we wanted it to feel cosy and sci-fi but more “fantasy” than hard sci-fi.

 

This is one of the many storyboard images made by Benoit Leloup for a narrative sequence. We worked from the dialogues and the location to describe the posings and movements to the animators.

 

The loading screens in the game were more than loading screens, they were images that we used to imagine all the “first times” of our couple. The parts that would not be shown in the game. We brainstormed them with Audrey Leprince and Koyorin did the characters’ art.

 

Obviously the art from the opening is also a key visual element of the game. It was on purpose different from the rest of the game. It’s a stylized opening. This was all made by Yukio Takatsu, from our creative vision of the game

About Seth Barton

Seth Barton is the editor of MCV – which covers every aspect of the industry: development, publishing, marketing and much more. Before that Seth toiled in games retail at Electronics Boutique, studied film at university, published console and PC games for the BBC, and spent many years working in tech journalism. Living in South East London, he divides his little free time between board games, video games, beer and family. You can find him tweeting @sethbarton1.

Check Also

DEVELOP/JOBS – Time is running out to show your best side to potential candidates

DEVELOP/JOBS is returning in the next issue of MCV/DEVELOP - Get in touch before December 1st to take part!