What’s a hand-drawn sport? Relies on who you ask

The world of Cozy Grove appears to be like like the within of a sketchbook. Its detailed illustrations, wealthy with colour and diverse linework, slowly fade from full colour to muted, nearly unfinished scenes. These are there for a goal; the participant is to carry colour and life again to the island. But it surely’s additionally a method designed to convey a way of heat and humanity — that this can be a world touched by life.

Developer Spry Fox describes the sport as “hand-drawn,” and that really feel has at all times been a precedence for the staff. It’s a descriptor that loads of video games have taken on over time; notable hand-drawn video games embody the likes of Cuphead and Spiritfarer, neither of which fairly resemble Cozy Grove’s hand-drawn type. In spite of everything, in breaking down the time period “hand-drawn” to its easiest phrases, we get one thing that’s drawn by hand — as apparent as that sounds. Most video games have a component of drawing, with artists that create textures, illustrate backgrounds, and mannequin characters. Numerous video games would qualify as hand-drawn, however just some select to stick to that label. What does it imply for a sport to be hand-drawn? Because it seems, that’s totally different for many builders.

“Certainly one of our essential objectives was to make a sport that appears like an attractive sketchbook that will get coloured by watercolor washes because the world and its characters evolve,” Cozy Grove lead artist Noemí Gómez instructed Polygon. “The entire idea affected how we method the road work — we aimed for a crispy, ink-looking linework — and rendering — closely textured rendering — in Cozy Grove to resemble conventional artwork.”

Cozy Grove is drawn utilizing digital instruments, like a stylus on a touchscreen pill, however in a method that makes it look prefer it was created by an individual utilizing bodily mediums: ink and watercolor. Its 2D objects and characters are particularly designed in a technique to mimic the impression {that a} bodily drawn line has. “Because it seems, there’s an aesthetic to strains,” Spry Fox co-founder and chief inventive officer Daniel Cook dinner mentioned. “There’s one thing simply very heat and private a few hand-drawn line that varies ever so barely in width, and the place it ends and the way it tails. We’ve had lots of discussions about this: What makes an excellent line?”

Hand-drawn means lots of various things to totally different individuals, and whereas I used to be doing analysis for this story, loads of builders requested me: Does my sport depend as hand-drawn? For me, the reply was sure, in the event that they thought it counted — it’s lower than me to determine. Right here’s what everybody mentioned.

[Ed. note: Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.]

Mundaun - a player examines their inventory, paying special attention to a severed goat’s head, with the eyes still open.

Picture: Hidden Fields/MWM Interactive

Mundaun is exclusive in the way in which it’s hand-drawn. From solo developer Michel Ziegler and printed by MWM Interactive, Mundaun’s artwork is modeled on a pc, with hand-drawn pencil textures drawn and scanned to the pc artwork. The ensuing look is gorgeous — not like another sport I’ve seen earlier than.

Right here’s what Ziegler needed to say:

Step one is to create the 3D mannequin digitally and doing the UV Unwrap, [which is a process that makes models flat]. I then bodily print out the UV maps and hint them roughly on a lightbox onto a contemporary piece of paper. Then I normally do a tough sketch cross on them, particularly whether it is for one thing like a face texture, the place the drawing must considerably align with the 3D mannequin. Issues like wooden or rocks are clearly extra forgiving in that regard. I scan the drawing and apply it to the 3D mannequin, which is my favourite second. I repeat drawing and scanning till I’m pleased with the end result.

However I feel I designed the sport in the identical method {that a} drawing builds from sketch to the completed factor. Being a solo dev allowed me to work on the sport world and techniques in an natural method, including particulars, scenes, and parts because it felt pure. Every little thing was rising on the identical time. The world, the characters, the plot, the gameplay. I hope the gamers can really feel the identical ingredient of discovery all through the sport that I felt whereas creating it.

Drawing is my essential ardour. I found it somewhat late in life, however it did change the way in which I take a look at issues in a serious method. So at any time when potential, I wish to use that type of expression. I like unwieldy processes with a component of randomness. At any time when I first apply a drawn texture to a mannequin, there is a component of shock. It’s simply an excessive amount of enjoyable to find issues that work by chance.

A stray kitten watches you play a small piano in Behind Your Eyes

Picture: Goodbye World Video games/Skybound Video games

Earlier than Your Eyes is performed with the participant’s personal eyes — their real-life blinks, tracked by a webcam, management the story. Earlier than Your Eyes skips ahead every time the participant blinks. The visuals are necessary; this can be a sport performed with eyes, in any case. Artist Hana Lee instructed me that having Earlier than Your Eyes have a hand-drawn really feel was important: “[Before Your Eyes] waves between a dream-like setting and the true world, and I don’t suppose this might have been conveyed in an fascinating method if the sport had hyperrealistic graphics.”

They continued:

The comfortable ambiance with the colourful background colors would positively not have been the identical if it weren’t hand-drawn.

I’ve at all times labored in a hand-drawn type so I can’t actually say how a lot it’s totally different from a sport that’s not hand-drawn, however I feel the method is kind of easy. Low poly fashions work very properly with the cartoonish aspect of my type, so it’s actually about attempting to get the overall shapes proper and what number of polygons I can reduce down on to make issues so simple as potential, but additionally have them be expressive. Having character fashions be mocapped was a primary for me, in order that introduced very fascinating outcomes the place cartoonish characters have been actually coming to life.

As for 2D belongings within the sport, I did the whole lot digitally however I caught to utilizing brushes which have tough edges to make them fairly actually look hand-drawn. I used a tough marker brush for many of them in order that they nonetheless match with the overall type of the sport, and for some animations I used one which leaned extra in direction of oil paint and gouache.

I really feel like hyperrealism typically breaks expression and vibrancy, and if the sport leaned extra in direction of this aspect I feel the story would have had a a lot heavier tone, somewhat than a whimsical and extra hopeful one. I feel many characters, just like the Ferryman for instance, wouldn’t have labored if he have been a practical, anthropomorphic coyote.

Contemplating this can be a sport you play along with your eyes as properly, we’d like gamers to attempt to give attention to each element we put into each scene. There’s one thing enjoyable and fascinating in each nook and cranny of the sport that provides the characters depth and character, and by having these be simplified in a hand-drawn type, they’re a lot simpler to soak up.

The first page of If Found...’s in-game diary, which is covered in Kasio’s name and other scribbles.

Picture: Dreamfeel/Annapurna Interactive

If Found… was one of my favorite games of last year, and I cherished the mechanic of erasing. The sport, created by developer Dreamfeel and printed by Annapurna Interactive, is a few queer girl in Eire within the ’90s. It’s principally a journal primarily based round a selected time interval in Kaiso’s life.

It was heartbreaking to erase the stunning drawings from artist Liadh Younger — however that ache was important to the story. Younger began a diary of her personal for inspiration, doodling and scribbling to fill out pages that have been scanned to create the sport’s closing artwork.

Younger described If Discovered… and the method:

The story is generally instructed by means of Kasio’s diary. By means of drawings and textual content she information her environment and her personal feelings throughout this time period. To present the diary an genuine really feel the artwork of Kasio’s diary was drawn in pencil on paper and scanned in. I drew lots of of pages for each little piece of artwork within the sport.

We wished the diary to really feel as reasonable as potential. Throughout growth I additionally began my very own diary much like Kasio’s and it helped me get into the mindset of what Kasio would report in her day by day life and the way she would draw sure topics. I discovered when preserving a diary, you’d draw your self as a scribbly mess, draw your mates with the utmost care, and doodle mindlessly round textual content while you have been enthusiastic about different issues.

Whereas studying the script I’d sketch moments as if I used to be filling out a diary web page, type of following Kasio’s stream of consciousness. These sketches would typically then be fleshed out into extra refined illustrations, however we scanned and stored each single drawing within the course of! Later these additional sketches and doodles would often additionally grow to be a part of the collages and get utilized in surprising locations.

I used to be given lots of free rein within the type of the artwork and composition of the photographs. I feel that freedom to attract in my very own type made the artwork of If Discovered really feel very private. I feel it emphasised that the story was illustrated by the protagonist, Kasio.

When director Llaura McGee and I have been brainstorming for If Discovered, the concept of a diary got here fairly naturally as a result of our shared curiosity in zine tradition, indie comics and my desire for drawing on paper and in sketchbooks. We got down to make a sport that mixed a sketchbook, the distinctive erasing mechanic and a story. The sport was constructed across the artwork path, somewhat than the opposite method round.

I feel one fascinating method the artwork influences how If Discovered is performed within the erasing mechanic. It’s important to erase the drawings to progress the story, and apparently some individuals battle with erasing Kasio’s recollections, particularly the happier ones!

Screenshot on an animal crossing a bridge in Nobody Saves the World

Picture: DrinkBox Studios

DrinkBox Studios will launch No one Saves the World “soon-ish,” and I’m wanting to see extra of its colourful cartoon artwork type. From the developer of Guacamelee!, No one Saves the World is an motion role-playing sport with artwork that appears as fascinating because the gameplay. And, in keeping with DrinkBox Studios idea lead August Quijano, it’s hand-drawn:

I feel individuals use “hand-drawn” to imply that the artwork was created with conventional animation methods, e.g., utilizing pencil and paper, flipping by means of drawings with a lightbox, and possibly so far as inking and coloring every body by hand. However, know-how has allowed us to make stylistic decisions and have choices, so a lot of the video games have some “hand-drawn” element and it makes the definition murky.

We now use screens you may draw on with a particular pen into an animation software program. It’s all drawn digitally by hand, however won’t be thought-about “hand-drawn” by some as a result of it’s a paperless course of.

Having simply completed creating just a few video games with characters that used a really polygonal type (e.g., Guacamelee! 2), we discovered ourselves eager to do one thing totally different, so we started exploring totally different kinds. We have been exploring linework that would convey some sense of “grossness” like Ren and Stimpy, or Aaahh!!! Actual Monsters, however built-in right into a world comparable in really feel to the early Zelda video games.

A Cozy Grove character with big eyes standing in a field of flowers

Picture: Spry Fox

Artist Noemí Gómez described Cozy Grove as “grownup cozy,” a sport that’s cute and heat however, finally, has severe themes. The artwork type, which has slightly extra punch than a sport like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, is a key think about the way it’s perceived.

We prefer to outline Cozy Grove’s type as “Grownup cozy”, to attain this type we took lots of inspiration from Ghibli motion pictures, particularly on the subject of the entire vibe and ambiance. One other massive inspiration was Over the Backyard Wall, which I feel captures and balances the comfortable and spooky vibes very well. Model-wise you may clearly see references to Don’t Starve’s artwork type.

Making a sport that resembles conventional artwork makes it tough to create a quick and environment friendly work course of as each asset was made with consideration to element (to additionally improve the hidden object think about Cozy Grove). Each artist working within the mission needed to put their creative potential into the rendering of each particular person asset to create this impact, whereas comparable titles out there go for a cell-shading artwork type for this sort of sport. All in all, we needed to work additional arduous to ship massive a great deal of extremely detailed items of artwork into Cozy Grove!

The artwork type was set fairly early on in addition to the fundamental sport mechanics however I feel we obtained tremendous hooked up to the characters very early which I feel was one of many decisive components that turned Cozy Grove into the closely story targeted sport it’s right this moment.

A large moon with an angry, disapproving face and a child flying in front of it in Little Nemo and the Nightmare Fiends

Picture: Pie for Breakfast Studios

Little Nemo and the Nightmare Fiends is coming to Nintendo Change and Home windows PC, and it’s primarily based on the cartoonist Winsor McCay’s comedian strips. That’s evident from the artwork type and animation: It feels prefer it’s been pulled straight from the period. Recreation designer Chris Totten spoke concerning the sport:

For us “hand-drawn” is a technique to experiment with bringing sport artwork nearer to different artwork types (particularly conventional animation, which [Winsor] McCay was an early pioneer of) and attending to discover animation historical past. We’re paying homage to the paintings of an necessary determine that set the stage for lots of the processes we use right this moment, so we wished to get as near his type as potential.

COVID-19 knocked out our means to do a full in-studio ink-on-cels strategy of the type you noticed with Cuphead (or conventional function animation generally), so we’re utilizing the brand new 2D animation instruments within the free and open-source digital animation program Blender. Moderately than utilizing vectors or something like that, we’re nonetheless drawing the animations by hand with tablets following conventional animation rules like Disney’s 12 Principles of Animation, in-betweening (which McCay invented), and so forth. To maintain this course of as “old skool” as potential , we’re staying away from extra trendy parts of our animation software program like armatures (“bones” put inside paintings to make it transfer), “puppet” animation (suppose Flash cartoons), or interpolation (draw form A, then draw form B on a later body, and the pc makes the whole lot between.) We’re doing the whole lot we are able to with easy drawing.

Nightmare Fiends is as a lot a celebration of an necessary artist’s work as a lot as it’s a cool indie sport. Winsor McCay laid the groundwork for the comics and animation industries as we all know them, which in flip had lots of influences on video games.

Two people standing on stage about to do karaoke in Welcome to Elk

Picture: Triple Topping Video games

Triple Topping’s Welcome to Elk is a sport that tells true tales instructed to the developer from reminiscence. The tales have been mixed to create the narrative, and the artwork type displays the magic and organicness of the story. It’s digitally drawn, utilizing a selected aesthetic to offer it that contact, although Triple Topping Video games’ Murray Somerville mentioned some textures have been made with charcoal and white oil paint after which scanned right into a library that artists pulled from.

“I feel there’s one thing about seeing a bodily mark that subconsciously communicates to a viewer the understanding that this was ‘handmade,’” mentioned Somerville.

I feel what makes me consider a sport as “hand drawn” is one thing to do with seeing some proof of physicality within the artwork making. I feel there are quirks and customized methods of mark making that make you visualize somebody really making that line somewhat than from a pc.

With Welcome to Elk, the sport relies on true tales so we wished the artwork to really feel private and seize that “hand drawn” feeling so it has a connection to the facility of storytelling. One thing which tells you a human made this, a lot in the identical method we get from the way in which we inform tales to 1 one other.

The best way we did that is, we drew the whole lot “free hand” — which isn’t something profound, it simply signifies that when drawing, the whole lot from characters to backgrounds, we did with our arms and with out utilizing digital instruments that may simulate extra “right” construction. So straight strains are by no means utterly straight as a result of they’ve been drawn by hand, identical with shapes like circles — nothing is a clear illustration however as an alternative one thing which has been accomplished to the perfect it may be by a human hand and eye.

I feel it’s within the consistency of seeing these small imperfections, these small bumps and awkwardness that conveys a “hand drawn” aesthetic, as a result of we are able to largely all relate to the concept of attempting to attract a straight line.

A headmaster saying: “After we’re done here, you will be an elite force capable of ending this war once and for all,” in Code Romantic

Picture: prettysmart video games

Code Romantic is a visible novel that teaches coding, and lots hinges on the artwork. It’s a love story with distinctive, compelling characters from prettysmart video games, with watercolor illustrations from Allyson Kelley. And it teaches you to code! Miko Charbonneau, founding father of prettysmart video games, and Kelley instructed me concerning the sport and its artwork.


I’d classify something drawn by a hand both on paper or with a stylus as hand-drawn. Nevertheless, we emphasize this facet of our sport as a result of the entire characters and backgrounds have been sketched, inked and painted by hand on paper. The watercolors are scanned in, coloured, and made into character asset sheets. The face items are painted digitally by Allyson. Then I assemble them and animate them in Unity.

To me it’s like making a film, it’s a must to do lots of pre-planning for each shot as a result of it’s expensive to re-shoot it later. I feel it was value it, although. There’s a pure facet to seeing little pencil marks and hints of paper that brings it a human high quality.

I used to be excited by the problem of bringing conventional watercolors right into a digital, interactive surroundings. I wished Allyson to work in the way in which she was most comfy and I wished the top end result to have lots of character. The artwork positively modified the way in which the sport appears to be like and feels! We have been influenced by propaganda posters and romanticism landscapes, and Allyson mixed these inspirations along with her personal type. Though the sport takes place over 100 years sooner or later, there’s a nostalgic appeal to the setting and the character designs that stunned me. The machines particularly took on a whimsical high quality I couldn’t have give you by myself.

Code Romantic is a visible novel with coding puzzles, so there’s not as a lot gameplay as different genres. The artwork positively influenced how we selected to do animations and cinematics, nevertheless. We wished to incorporate as many alternative poses as potential, which led to the separate items method with extra animations and a extra dynamic digital camera.

a bunch of watercolor paintings spread out on the floor

Code Romantic paintings by Allyson Kelley.
Picture courtesy of Miko Charbonneau


I feel the most important distinction between Code Romantic and plenty of different hand-drawn 2D video games is how a lot we embraced the feel and messiness of a conventional medium. There’s a sure lack of management, or randomness, that you just get from watercolor and ink that simply don’t occur while you work digitally. With digital hand-drawn video games and illustrations you both have so as to add in that messiness and variations or embrace the exacting smoothness.

However now there are such a lot of nice textured brushes that digital work can actually look identical to conventional work!

We began with a script and created storyboards. Entrance there we made certain the story was working and deliberate out what poses or sport belongings we wanted. Most character poses and early sport belongings began historically and because the sport progressed and new items have been wanted, the sketches have been then accomplished digitally to assist velocity up manufacturing.

Then they’re transferred to watercolor paper and inked in both brown or sepia. I begin with a yellow ochre wash, after which apply some primary shading in a purple grey combine. Then they’re scanned in, cleaned up, and coloured in Photoshop. The ochre wash helps all of the characters and parts really feel extra unified whereas utilizing Photoshop permits us to have a extra constant and managed colour.

Different video games that depend on 3D belongings would probably begin with the identical preliminary idea and sketch levels then transfer on to modeling, sculpting, rigging, texturing, then animating. Just lately although I’ve been seeing actually fascinating 3D sculptures and belongings which can be mixing watercolor items and textures into their video games. It’s wonderful!

a painted image of an industrial landscape in Out of Line

Picture: Nerd Monkeys/Hatinh Interactive

Out of Line appears to be like like a portray — a whimsical journey in a fantastical, mysterious world. Lead artist Francisco Santos defined the method:

For us, [hand-drawn] signifies that a sport has a distinct and private artwork type, near a extra “conventional” type present in work or drawings. However the total “hand-drawn” really feel in our sport, additionally comes by merging all of the totally different elements of the sport, together with story, animation, VFX, music and sound design. The place all these components come collectively and create the “hand-drawn” really feel to the world.

In my view, a sport that embraces a “hand-drawn” type is a sport that takes inspiration and tries to match a extra “conventional” type of artwork, a lot nearer to a drawing, a portray or animation accomplished in a non-digital medium. This additionally signifies that the method of creation is analogous. A extra inventive and free course of, but additionally an extended and a much less versatile one the place the whole lot is “accomplished by hand” created from scratch. However with the upside that ultimately, the end result will likely be one thing totally different and far nearer to the artist’s imaginative and prescient.

In our sport, Out of Line, each graphical a part of the sport tries to observe that path. Taking shut inspiration from Studio Ghibli movies, quick animated motion pictures, trendy portray actions like impressionism and expressionism, amongst many extra.

It’s simple to get misplaced within the “hand-drawn” a part of the type and overlook the medium that’s really serving. So we have now to maintain reminding ourselves, that the artwork type method we took has to serve the sport first, making the sport readable and fulfilling for the participant to navigate in. But additionally must be near the artist’s imaginative and prescient and emotions. Giving on the finish, one thing “hand-drawn”, totally different and refreshing to the participant.

Two people standing next to each other in front of a food truck

Picture: Toadhouse Video games

Toadhouse Video games’ Name Me Cera is popping out in 2022, however the staff launched a vignette from the sport referred to as Good Lookin Home Cookin this 12 months. Toadhouse founder Alanna Linayre mentioned the sport is about “two finest mates operating a meals courtroom throughout Ramadan,” whereas Name Me Cera, as a complete, is about making mates as an grownup, and the artwork performed into that.

Right here’s Linayre on the hand-drawn artwork type:

I wished the video games to be hand-drawn for a lot of causes. I cherished the way it jogged my memory of image books, which has a comforting, nostalgic feeling. However largely, the characters in our video games are messy and actual, and I wished the artwork to replicate that. I wished it to have a human contact, since our visible novels give attention to making wholesome decisions that permit Gamers to discover messy IRL conditions. And I didn’t need the sport to really feel too treasured or excellent. I wished Gamers to really feel comfy experimenting and enjoyable on the planet we constructed. Lastly, many visible novels have a modern anime look to them. I wished to face out and make it clear that what works in these won’t work whereas enjoying ours.

I instructed our idea artist, who additionally did our backgrounds, to lean into the nostalgic and cozy image ebook feeling. I instructed them so as to add as many loving little particulars as they might. I then requested our sprite artist to match that painterly color and style story, however to make the characters look extra polished and cleaner than the backgrounds, in order that they stood out and have been simple on the eyes. The mixture gave the characters a pure focus, when laid on high of the extra hazy backgrounds.

A detrimental aspect impact to my decisions is that individuals typically assume our demographic is youthful. We wrote the tales with 25-40 12 months olds in thoughts. Nevertheless, after individuals play our video games, we’ve been instructed our intentions grow to be extra clear.

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