The Oil Blue Art: Thoughts & Notes

Sara Gross, lead artist for the Oil Blue, did a great presentation over at the Akron Film/Pixel festival last month on the challenges and designing the Oil Blue’s fantastic looking art.

Sadly I wasn’t able to go, nor was the presentation recorded (phooey), but I did send her some notes on designing the game on my end. So, I thought it’d be interesting to share them with yall too.

I was looking at some fan art about a year ago when I came across a really neat Worms inspired drawing, set on a purple sunset on random cliffs in the ocean. It was about that time I was listening to some really good euphorial music that it clicked something inside of me…I had to make a game using this kind of setting. I didn’t know what kind of game, but the idea of being alone in the vast ocean on a cliff seemed inspiring.

Around that time I was really addicted to Miner Dig Deep, an Xbox Live Indie game. I figured a game based on the mechanics of Dig Deep would be fun, while putting my own little twist on it. But soon into production I realized it was outside my capabilities to create a procedurally generated map like that, and allow the player to dig wherever they wanted. While that idea was out, I still really wanted to make a game in that setting.

I grew up in Odessa, Texas, where the sight of pump jacks littering the landscape seemed as common as anything else. An idea based on the drilling of oil…that was something I could relate to. So, the objective of drilling for oil for a company seemed to suit my setting quite nicely.

Restrictions based on my capabilities/skills as an artist and programmer are, oddly enough, incredibly valuable to me. I couldn’t actually show a drill going into the ground, as I was restricted to the 2D plane and my art skills weren’t up to par. But on the other side, I most certainly could create an audio experience for players that were right up there with the best, as it only required me to be inventive as to where I would get my audio sources. Audio recording is a fun hobby of mine, but was restricted to college as I was able to use their expensive field recording equipment. So, I resorted to mixing sounds I found on the internet- mainly videos of elevators. The sounds of shafts and lifts going up and down made great drilling sounds, combined with construction tools and general machinery. The sounds “fooled” the player into an experience bigger than I was able to conceive visually, and that helped the game tremendously.

The machinery was also heavily inspired by elevator panels, something that I could pull off reasonably well. What I couldn’t pull off was the atmosphere surrounding the drilling, literally the entire reason I was making the game in the first place, and that’s where Sara Gross came in. She transformed the ocean landscapes into one of desolate, haunting beauty. The rocky islands had beautiful shapes and forms while simultaneously being desolate and empty. The pump equipment was littered with lights, the few beacons that were not stars in the distance. Again, thanks to my restrictions I wasn’t able to make a rough, tumbling ocean, but the calmness of the sea had it’s own unique feeling of dread.

True, most of the gameplay takes place underwater, away from the art that Sara has created- but it’s at the end of the day when you’re lifted out of the water and gaze upon the island you’re currently drilling that ties the game together. Suddenly you’re not just fiddling with buttons, you’re drilling oil out in an ocean surrounded by nothing for miles. It’s just you, the drills and the stars.

(image was the one I was inspired by, thanks to Orioto).

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