Motiga's Gigantic Interview: Crafting Timeless Characters

Motiga's Gigantic Interview: Crafting Timeless Characters

The great characters of Gigantic hit me hard, so I sat down with character artist Joe Pikop to figure out where they came from.

Motiga's Gigantic looks amazing in motion. I had previously seen the original announcement trailer 6 months ago, but then the title dropped off my radar. Review season will do that to you. Gigantic didn't get a chance to recapture my mindspace until PAX South last weekend, when I was able to sit down and play the title for the first time.

Gigantic is a 5v5 competitive multiplayer title played from the third person shooter perspective. It's similar to MOBA titles in that you have a colorful cast of characters with various roles and abilities that level up over the course of the match. Each character has a kit of five abilities at your fingertips and as you play, you can upgrade these abilities in various directions.

The battlefield doesn't have lanes - at least in the level I played - with straight-forward maps leading from one base to the other. In-between the bases are control points: stand on one and you can take it for your team. You can then use it to summon monsters to fight your opponents.

The "Gigantic" name comes from the the "bases" themselves. Each one is a large guardian that rests at either end of the map. As you kill your opponents and hold control points, you add to the wakefulness of your guardian. When they're awake, they'll stomp their way to the other side of the battlefield and attack your opponents' guardian. When they happens, it'll reveal a weakspot for you to attack and take the enemy guardian down, which is your ultimate objective.

It's not straight deathmatch, it's not capture-the-flag, it's not even MOBA-style play. Gigantic is something else. I enjoyed my time with the game.

What really stuck with me though is the character designs. Like Team Fortress 2 and Blizzard's recently-announced Overwatch, Gigantic has some absolutely amazing designs for its characters. From the rotund fun of Uncle Sven to the ninja svelte of Tripp, they're all pretty awesome. This is what I mean when I talk about diversity, seeing artists really play around with the infinite palette that game creation affords.

They made such a mark on me that I decided to sit down with character artist Joe Pikop to figure out where they all came from.

Mike: So what was the specific inspiration behind Gigantic's art style?

Joe: You look at anything that has an animation background. Miyazaki for the backgrounds is a huge influence. For the general style, it's a lot of the things you'd guess: Wind Waker and Team Fortress. Team Fortress 2 is a good example of doing it right, making art that's timeless, where you're not racing against a clock of how many pixels you have. You build something that you want to still be around in 5 to 10 years.

We want the game to be around 10 years down the line and to do that you have to have something that ages well. A lot of the simplification, using less, that's really been a big driving factor. Also, it's just more fun.

Mike: Was that also behind your decision not to use high-res textures?

Joe: It's not the case that they have lower-resolution textures. When we do get to the point that we double or quadruple the size of the texture, you're not going to notice it in the same way that you do a super-high detail first-person shooter. In a year, that's going to look dated when the next big thing comes out and blows it out of the water. We're not going to run into that.

Mike: How long did it take for the team to decide on this specific style?

Joe: The style itself is definitely a process. We spent a lot of time on it. My mantra is "less things". If there's ten pockets on a character, what is the one pocket? How do you simplify as much as you can? What's the least possible number of elements you can use in the design to portray what you want to portray? Lord Knossos, the bull... all of his shoulder pads were just crazy tassels. That's a cool detail, but what's the big version of that? What's the "at a 100 yards I can tell what that is" version? We spend a lot of time with that.

Generally speaking our goal with every character is for you to be able to look at it and know what the role is. Good example: The Margrave right now summons demon weapons when he attacks. In our local build, we've actually re-animated him completely. If you looked at him in character select, could you tell me he summons flaming demon sword?

Mike: Nope.

Joe: Probably not. So we said "What does he do?' If you look at him, he's a tank. He's big, with a fiery demon hand. So now the man swings and it's all about that fist. That's the weapon. We're trying to prune out the extra ideas; when you see the character select, you should be able to tell that's the character you want to play. So we try and do that as much as possible.

Mike: How do you decide which character you want to make next? Is there a board where you can see what gameplay holes you may have?

Joe: Really what it comes down to is there are a few ways we come up with characters. For example, with Imani, we said, "I guess we should probably have a sniper in our game. A first-person shooter sniper." It's not a first-person game, but we decided to bring that in and see what it's like. There's a lot more "why not?" Why not have the fighter character? One of the characters that's not here is based on fighting game combos; skills chain based on what you did last.

The panel we just did, we talked about Mozo. We basically said, "We need a wizard. Where's the wizard?" Sometimes that's the genesis. Sometimes it's just an artist with a great idea. "Look at this cool character! We should probably make a kit that fits this."

Mike: What constraints does your specific style or your world fiction place on you?

Joe: The one major constraint we keep on ourselves is there's no breaking of the fourth wall. There's not going to be real-world references in the game. There's not going to be the football player version of a tank. It's going to be in the world. We can cobble together a sport and sports team, but you're not going to see a Seahawks jersey. That fourth wall is a pretty hard rule. But there aren't a lot of restrictions about what we can and can't do. It's pretty free-wheeling.

Mike: Can we expect some crazy costumes for the entire cast?

Joe: There will be. I don't know the logistics of that, but we've been making them. Some of them I wish that they were the main version of the character. Lord Knossos in particular. I get to see those and nobody else gets to.

Mike: So how far can you take that? Riot can sometimes make new characters with a different costume.

Joe: That is another constraint we have. It is the character. Tripp is Tripp. It's still that girl and she's wearing a different outfit. Maybe it has different cultural references.

Mike: So no changes in skin tone, for example?

Joe: Skin tone would be the same. It's actually the character. I wouldn't suddenly be Asian tomorrow, I'm a white dude. That will hold true with all of the characters. Obviously HK-206 is a little more difficult. It's them. It's not just another version, it's still them.

Mike: Being you to show the game to players at PAX South, what do you think they'll miss in the character art as they're playing?

Joe: One thing I know people miss is HK. When you [use his Fortify ability] there's certain upgrades that turn him into this enormous turret. This huge gatling gun-style barrel replaces his head. From the camera angle, it's not very visible. It definitely was a process to make that work. That's a bummer.

I think the thing people will probably miss the most is there are many amazing artists doing some smart stuff. Pay attention to the little things - if you look at explosions, actually look at them when you watch someone playing - the particle effects of an explosion, it's all 3D. It's not 2D, it's not hand-drawn, but it looks really convincing as a hand-drawn sprite. Just watching a character running around and seeing how lovingly-crafted the animations are. They kill it on those characters. It's just fun to watch. When you're playing, you can miss it very easily.

Motiga's Gigantic is coming out for PC with a planned worldwide launch in early 2015. You can sign up for the alpha now.

Disclosure: I an the friend of a friend of Motiga illustrator Alexandra “Lexxy” Douglass. We met at a wedding once. She's a cool person, that's her art in the header I believe. We don't even follow each other on Twitter. (What's up with that!?)

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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