SpeedRunners is a competitive platformer game on Steam and Xbox One. The game is to out-run your opponents, and a central theme of the controls and level design is to always keep up momentum! There are no harsh stops, and the best players can weave through obstacles without friction.

Coming into SpeedRunners as an art director, the outline of a level needed to be clear and distinct, as your camera is relentlessly two steps in-front. The level backgrounds should feel satisfyingly busy, but not distracting. The rendering style we landed on was blocky vector-art Cartoon Network style that could evoke a busy metropolis with minimal details and a sparse colour palette.

The setting for the game was a middle 20th Century American metropolis. This was a good real-life base for evoking a sense of progress, momentum and taking the lead. The post-war boom lead to the space race, the moon landing, mapping the human DNA, advancements in nuclear power, the rise of rock and roll and modern-day inventions from colour TV to the microwave. There was a culture that anything was possible and the future was on the horizon. Looking at retro futuristic American Googie architecture, like the Seattle Space Needle or the LAX Airport building, people were ready for the future. There are such great themes for SpeedRunners in this architecture!

I heard somewhere that seeing cranes on a city skylines was a sign of forward progress, so that’s a useful tip for anyone to evoke a city on the rise.

This attitude of progress and momentum then leaked into the UI and interactive visual elements of the game. Every menu and widget would swoop up and to the right, and all text had to be rotated about 10 degrees anti-clockwise to make it feel full of anticipation and vigor. We’d encase ads in a big Jetsons-style swoop, and distort HUD elements to feel like they were lunging up and ahead. Art assets would always be positioned and flipped to make sure they were pointing forwards through the level.

This theme is present everywhere, like making sure the tempo of each run-cycle would sync nicely with the upbeat rhythm of the music. We hoped that players would absorb the atmosphere and feel a great satisfaction in keeping the tempo up. The whole game is a composition enticing you to run ahead, that’s the idea.

It’s also great for building a strong game identity when your art direction is tied so harmoniously to the themes and function of the game itself.

  • Justin Black

    I have always been a fan of speedrunning and a novice runner myself, I haven’t tried the game yet but this article has compelled me to go home and give it a whirl after work today, what a cool concept