I was a couple of nail clippers that got me. In a game about how to see a person’s life through unpacked objects, there is so much that can hit you. Those scissors came out of a box in the bathroom and I threw them in a trash drawer along with some perfume, a shaving razor and a couple of hairbrushes.
What surprised me was how sharp the clippers looked – how sharp everything was. It is crucial to the game that this bundle of pixels should be recognizable as a nail clipper at a glance. The way pixel art stays out of the world built by history And manages to look like wonderfuk made Unpacking such a success.
So how did this mix of aesthetics and realism come about? I was lucky enough to speak with Angus Doolan, Unpacking’s lead pixel artist. He lives in Brisbane, Australia. And he tells me it all started with a cup.
Initially, creative director Wren Brier had created a simple mug. The whole scale of the game is based on how small the cup could make. After all, it is played on a grid: an object can only fit in a square.
“The art style is designed so that it can represent a cup, so what if I need to draw something that is smaller than a cup handle?”
For Doolan, this meant that things like nail clippers had to be abstractly designed.
“If you really look at the clippers, they are absolutely giant and very short. They are not the same size as the real nail clippers,” he tells me. There was a double challenge in Unpacking: the team had to make the objects look real and recognizable objects while still being functional like a block in that grid structure.
“The first thing is to decide in a representative way, what is a cup?” Doolan says. “What is it that people have recognized as a cup: basically a cylinder with a hole in the middle and the handle. Having a cup without a handle may require you to contextualize people. The less it seems like the thing they have to recognize the more you have to figure out what. it comes through other methods.
“If you pull out a cup with a handle, you will easily recognize it as a cup,” he continues. “Then you take out another cup that doesn’t have a handle, you’ll realize it’s also a cup. So the process is to just think about the thing, about this object that people recognize, and then try to draw it Why, with the pixel art, you have limits on what aspects you can really represent. “
The different states of each item have also been a significant challenge for Doolan and the art team, given the isometric nature of your player perspective. With his experience as a pixel artist working primarily on platformers, having to adapt to this perspective was actually the most satisfying challenge for Doolan, since you can’t just change the angle of a drawing and expect it to look the same as the. original.
“Isometric is not intuitive to me. Things had to be right, because the player can just click to spin an object, kind of like they could play an animation of the spinning object. So if things were inaccurate, it would immediately become obvious that the object was wrong. “
It took a lot of technical knowledge on Doolan’s part to spin the designs convincingly with the game’s perspective, which is more important than you think when you’re trying to visualize a toaster in your boyfriend’s apartment.
It is done brilliantly. You can learn more on Doolan’s site where she created a tutorial on isometric measurement in pixel art. The amount of effort is astounding, considering how natural everything is in the game.
Unpacking looks so simple, with its cute pixelated versions of basic household items. But it is much more than that, and the challenges overcome by Doolan and the entire art team are an unknown element of Unpacking’s overwhelming success.