Keeping 2D Herald afloat by adding 3D

Herald is an interactive period drama about colonialism with a heavy emphasis on storytelling and art. Bart Heijltjes, Creative Director at Wispfire, explains how adding 3D saved the production.

“When we started making Herald we were facing a number of productional problems, not the least of which was our own limited experience in creating digital games. Our team mainly had a history in theatre and installation art. With only a single dedicated programmer, we were limited in complexity and scope. This meant we had to laser-focus on our strengths to have a chance at standing out from the crowd. Our weapons of choice would be our experience at interactive storytelling, a desire to tread narrative terrain few games have attempted and a keen interest to extensively research the subjects we choose to tackle. That and a kick-ass 2D artist with an interest in expanding into 3D.

Herald 1

To us, good stories mean something in the real world. The fictional reality is a mirror through which we see our own. During the first meetings about what would become Herald we discussed some of the themes in the game’s story. We decided on ‘identity in a globalizing world’, and that was the first decision we made. The bedrock under the entire project. Only after that we started to think about the setting and genre that would best serve this theme. This early focus allowed us to do targeted research to reach the kind of narrative depth we need, and let us ask the right questions to validate our early design decisions.

With a single 2D artist, no matter how skilled, we didn’t have the production capacity to create the game entirely in 2D at the level we felt was required. We wanted a kind of physicality and sense of exploration that, in 2D, would require large amount of extremely detailed art. Instead, we decided to try to bring the painted artstyle into 3D with hand-painted textures. Since exploring the world of Herald is only as important as exploring the identities of its characters, we augmented this with a conversation system displaying full 2D animated portraits with a range of emotions.

Herald 2

While we are still heavily tweaking our art pipeline, the results so far allowed our team to create beautiful immersive environments bearing the distinctive colourful painterly style our artist was already known for and netting us a nomination for Best Art at the Indie Prize Showcase 2015.

We managed to make Herald stand out by looking hard at the distinctive qualities that are present in our team. If you want to mitigate the limitations of your team and create something that gets noticed, look at the individual stories, passions and skills of your colleagues. By focusing on them, you can’t help but create something truly unique.”

Bart Heijltjes
Bart Heijltjes
Bart Heijltjes graduated from the Utrecht School of the Arts with a Master of Arts degree in Performance Design in 2012. Shortly after, he founded Wispfire with his partner and two former classmates.

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