My role at wizard games as Chief Artist involves crafting the overall look of our titles. As the title of Merge Racers suggests it’s a “merge” game about cars. For this mobile game I proposed creating a racing title that was different, in that it was more about toys and that nostalgic feeling of collecting diecast cars as a kid.
For the main screen I created a diorama motif, while the racing mode was inspired by vintage arcade games like Pole Position. Subtle things were done to exaggerate texture scale to make it look like a model set. To achieve this look I did things like photograph coarse grit black sandpaper for the road surface and photographed pepper sprinkled on a white sheet of paper to make specular maps for the diorama backdrop. The cars themselves also have a slightly rough “orange peel” texture to them, like diecast cars.
For the UI I develop the design in Photoshop – the cars I rendered in Unity and I built the diorama in Maya, but the rest of the elements were designed and crafted in Photoshop. One of the features we added to Merge Racers was an Augmented Reality mode. You can see the icon for it at the top of the screen. AR is such a new thing that there really isn’t much precedent for it as a graphic icon, so it was wide open in terms of design there.
In Race Mode for Merge Racers, my concept was to make the scene look like a miniature set – the kind of thing a hobbyist might make in their basement. The signs are a little thick and oversized and the sandpaper texture for the road was used again here. The skybox for the scene was also made to look like a hand-painted watercolour image (I used Art Rage and Photoshop for that). I painted a unique skybox for each level.
In the image above you can get a better sense of the look of the skybox. The actual skybox image is actually very long and wraps in a seamless cylinder around the set.
Each level in Merge Racers unlocks both a new track with a distinctive landscape and a new opponent. I designed and painted these characters in Photoshop to look like plastic figurines. The progress starts on the right with the MC, Chelsea, and goes from there. In the final level you are racing on the Moon, so we have Laika the astrodog there.
To create these figurines, I started painting a greyscale image – just the body in a pose. After that I added costume elements, moved on to basic colours and three highlight layers. There are red and cyan rim lighting layers and white highlights added afterwards. The final step was using a shrink wrap filter effect to pop in a bit of specular highlighting.
When creating the full set of figures I made sure each character had black, white and blue in their palette. By having some common colours the characters look like they belong as a group.