Hi friends! Good to have you back! :,) Something important first:  I don’t
want to say anything negative here or blame something! It’s only a
comparison and of course a subjective view on things! If you wanna
kick me anyway, use these tools: Mail, Twitter or Facebook.

Like in school, we start with some boring theory:

Boring Theory

Think of this as a 3D scene where the rings have different
distances to the camera. Could you tell which one is more near or more far
away?
Same question again. This time you should get a way better idea of how “deep” the scene is and which ring is more in the background than the others. Right?
That’s one aspect of doing a compostion and i think it’s an awesome tool to tell the viewer which elements of the image are more important than the others.

Awesome Theory

No let’s get to the interesting part (which i often missed during school): Games! Wohoo! Let’s compare screenshots of two similar games:

In The Binding of Isaac the “not so important” elements (wall, poop, stones, ground) are
not as strong defined as the enemies and Isaac itself. The outlines are
less intense and let the viewer focus on the more important stuff.

In Sushi Castle everything has the same black outline color (but there’s is variation in the thickness which is also a good way to separate things from each other).

I don’t say anthing about that one game looks better than the other (!), but in my personal opinion The Binding of Isaac works better from a compositional standpoint.

It’s of course always a question of taste and style! Personally i prefer
the basics of painting theory. If you want to know more about
the basics of design you should checkout the great videos of ctrl+paint!

Its just that sometimes people forget about the fundamental rules when it comes to
the highly complex workflow of making a game. It’s sometimes good to take a
step back and ask yourself, if the rendered frame buffer is “just” a
technical milestone or also a beautiful picture.

I would love to hear your opinion about this article (or all the others)!

6 thoughts on “Binding of Isaac – Composition

  1. Andreas

    I think it’s nice you stepped out of the all-technical zone for a bit. Readability is a very important aspect of a game and it’s a universal art not dependent on any tech.
    I welcome more examples like this.

    Reply
    1. Simon

      Good to hear you like it :) Yes i think it’s important to think about how the game is presented and often it’s really hard – especially when you not know where the player looks at :D

      Reply
  2. Anonymous

    I believe there are some kind of fundamental aspects lacking in the above games as well. From the screenshots you can tell they don’t render in a sorted way and that ruins the depth impression quite much as well. Painters algorithm should have been applied. Rendering the furthest away first and the closest last. Essentially meaning in these cases they should have sorted the rendering according to the Y-positions.

    Just a heads up to anyone trying to do something similar. Having proper drawing order would give you a bigger benefit!

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    Two comics I can think of, from the top of my head, that try to “guide” the viewer’s eye in their composition:
    Little Nemo
    and
    Cartoons drawn by Carl Giles
    ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Giles )

    Of course they’re not the only ones.
    Comics have been around for centuries by now, so most of them understand composition. Most forms of art do! Comics, movies, manga, architecture, music, furniture design, clothing, video games…
    Two 2D game examples that spring to my mind:
    Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee/Exoddus
    and Rayman.
    Though “top-down” 2D games, like your examples, will probably have a bit more trouble with composition.

    I really like reading your posts, by the way! You make all this feel a lot less daunting, and a lot more interesting. Your cheerfulness comes off perfectly. You should write for Gamasutra or something!

    Reply
    1. Simon

      Thanks for your comment!

      Yes, comics are one of the master classes because they simplify everthing and there’s mostly no place for “eyecandy” to prevent the eye from seeing the errors. Also together with a friend i looked at old woodcuts and these are also very cool. Especially when it comes to folds – they were able to create a very volumetric effect by using so little strokes :)

      Thanks man, i don’t know what to say. That’s a very big compliment and i can only say: Thanks :,)

      Reply

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