Why does the world of Furmins look the way it does?
That’s an interesting question. I guess the idea came from the fact that we knew from the beginning it would be a puzzle game, and so I wanted a look which reflected a lot of cultural thinking. Greek and Roman structures were an inspiration for this kind of look. At one point we also had an Asian/Zen kind of visual style; the final version of the game is the “Western version” of this.
So there was a prototype of Furmins featuring an Asian theme, reflecting the Zen spirit – an emphasis on concentration and thinking?
Yes. On that topic, one of the hardest things for this game was the static mode, where you aren’t always trying to frantically move objects, or shoot and explode stuff. You need something peaceful, but also visually rich and interesting enough to hold your attention so it doesn’t get boring when you aren’t actively “doing anything” except thinking about a solution.
Why was there a change from the original Asian-styled version to the final version?
I was working on Outland when the Asian-styled version of Furmins was being developed; I had no involvement with the Furmins direction at that point. It was still progressing, new objects were being made, but it didn’t have full approval, and so when I finished my last piece for Outland I went ahead and made a completely new look for Furmins because I could see that everyone was feeling like the game wasn’t progressing visually. I came in really early one morning, spent six hours on the new look, and then presented it in a meeting. It was a big relief when everyone liked it, and we’ve stayed with it from that moment on.
When did it become apparent that the Asian style wasn’t going to work?
Well, it would have needed a lot of visual design for it to work. And I guess when you’re looking at the same thing for three years it kind of loses its excitement. Once we had a new look, everyone had a renewed interest in the project.
Talk about how the design of the Furmins themselves evolved? You tested several designs, correct?
That’s correct. At first they were completely black and looked like the hairs of an ink brush, a look which was inspired by a certain style of Asian painting. For that particular look the black worked really well, because it came off as 2D since the black didn’t show any shadows; plus they had ink-like hieroglyphics attached to them. But with the marble surfaces and the white 3D elements in the game, the black came off as too flat, and so I needed to come up with a way to make the Furmins seem more three-dimensional.
Aside from the color, you worked hard on the Furmins’ expressions in order to convey a sense of cuteness. Tell us about that how this developed.
The eyes went through many changes mostly because of the scale of the iPhone screen – you need a lot of clarity for things to be seen well. Also, there were other factors – for example, I wasn’t that interested in adding eyebrows because I thought it would make them too “human looking”. But even without eyebrows we still managed to show their emotions, because we used their eyelids to sort of function like eyebrows. In the end we used less detail, and it worked out well.
Anything else you’d like to say about the art style?
Yes – that the art style is heavily inspired by old paintings.
Were you inspired by anyone in specific?
Primarily by 17th-century portrait paintings which had backgrounds that were painted not “on the spot” but rather from the imagination of the painter, which consequently made them look a bit more fantastical. I think this style fits Furmins really well, because it has a feeling of “oldness” to it. Also, the backgrounds in these paintings were designed to really showcase the face in the portrait; for gameplay purposes this works great because you don’t want the background elements to compete with the important things that the player needs to be able to see.
Tell me about the decision to go 3D with everything that is not classified as background. Why did you choose to go this route?
It was mostly for memory reasons. Also, the marble is a constant in different levels, and if it we’d done it in 2D than it would’ve started to look the same, and detached from the background – but now it blends in well with the different worlds. Also, the surfaces are fairly light, and with the 3D approach they end up looking different in different lighting settings.
Did you have some challenges going this route in terms of making everything look cohesive, as compared to going 2D?
Some elements were a little bit difficult because you don’t want them to blend in too much – but at the same time you want them to look like they belong in the same world. There’s a sort of historical tinge to the elements, a tinge which ties them all together – for example, the marble and the metallic pieces all have an ornamental look to them.
There’s a figure in the game that’s not a Furmin – I think you call it “the bird”. What is the origin of this character? What is it supposed to be?
That’s a complete mystery to all of us, and it’s my favorite character in the game because of that.
I saw in one picture he had a crown at some point, but it was removed.
The crown belongs to the King, I think. Actually, you can see on the story panels that the crown is probably many times the size of the bird itself, and so in reality it wouldn’t have fit.