Motion in the Wide Sky

by Brooks Weaver. 0 Comments

A few weeks ago I was checking the Apple App Store updates on my iPhone when I came across a new game that had been released.  Entitled Wide Sky, the artstyle of the hedgehog on the App caught my attention.

Checking out the details of the game, including the screenshots of the App’s gameplay, I was further intrigued about exactly what this game was.  Needless to say, at $0.99 it was worth a oh-what-the-heck and I downloaded it.  And let me tell ya, I haven’t stopped playing it since.

So given that we (actually “I”) here at Weave to the Write are all about finding out exactly why game developers create their games the way they do, I contacted the motion graphics designer behind the game: Mr. Marcus Eckert of Chemnitz, Germany.

I think I can honestly say that I have not seen a more fluid game on iPhone / iPad ever.  The movement of, well, everything is so crisp and clean that even checking your gameplay statistics feels fun.  When asked about this part of the game, Eckert commented that “I just like data and I thought it’d be nice for the data to be there, if people want it.  It also gave me another chance to play with some modes of manipulating the interface.”

But what about the main game, itself?  Trying to link a hedgehog to different kinds of rope and then put them both on a canvas of flowing wind patterns, birds, stars and clouds?  I wondered what was the inspiration behind it all.  “There wasn’t really one particular inspiration,” said Eckert.  “I had just always wanted to make a game and it seemed like the right time to do it.”

So then why a hedgehog?  “I knew I wanted to make a game where you swing from one place to the next.  When I started working on the game, the main character was a pig.  But as I progressed I realized that the character would have to be round for the game to work and that only left me with an armadillo or a hedgehog and a hedgehog seemed to be the better choice.”

I definitely agree that a “swinging pig” would be weird and an armadillo isn’t as cool as a hedgehog (props to Sonic).

Going along with incorporating a hedgehog as the main character, what about how it gets around this quirky and beautiful world?  Why use ropes and different kinds of them at that?  “The different ropes came after I played with the physics and thought it’d be nice to be able to change these things and to give the player some extra powers to use in-game,” said Eckert.

Fair enough.  Makes sense to me.

Regardless of how many times I play the game on my iPhone, I keep coming back to the stars in the sky, the birds flying by and the random gusts of wind that bring it all together.  How was the world of Wide Sky brought to life?  “It’s an iterative process,” explained Eckert.  “I mocked everything up in (Adobe) Photoshop and then I built the game.  And then you feel like there’s something missing, so you add the wind.  But it’s still too empty, so you add the birds and none of these things worked for me the first time I implemented them.  So, periodically I would go back to the wind or the birds and tweak them to make them look and move better.”

So just like when you are controlling the hedgehog as he swings from cloud to cloud gathering stars and orbs to complete the level, the development of the world was a revolving process of test-tweak-test-tweak.

Besides the offbeat commentary that helps to guide players throughout the game (and is most prevalent in the introduction), one last thing that I was curious about are the “names” of the ropes that are used.  I asked where they came from - how they were derived.  “I thought about using some underlying principle, like characters from books I liked or Jupiter moons.”  

Eckert continued, “but it all seemed very pretentious (although Callisto is a Jupiter moon).  So I thought I’d embrace the fact that I don’t have an underlying principle and make the names as disparate as possible while still somewhat odd or interesting sounding.”

I totally respect that.  As I’ve always been an advocate of the phrase “Normal is Boring”, going outside of the box during the creative process is, in my opinion, always the way to go.

Now on to the other side of Eckert’s portfolio: Motion Graphics.

I’ve always tried to be creative with my writing and with the various graphics that I create for myself, friends and coworkers.  But for as long as I have been doing that, I wondered how Eckert got into doing Motion Graphics.  “I started in 2008 to make videos for competitions and I really enjoyed the process,” said Eckert.  “Gradually I started to win some of these competitions and so the idea kind of evolved into a job.  I’ve been doing it full-time since 2011.”

There’s nothing like doing something that you enjoy and getting people to recognize your passion and talent.

So then with the understanding that I now have of important aspects that make up Wide Sky, how do you approach a Motion Graphics project?  “Well, I usually try to determine a style and then I come up with ways to illustrate whatever the client wants the video to communicate,” explains Eckert.  “There’s also a lot of iteration involved.  It’s not that different really (then iOS game development).”

I asked Eckert to elaborate more on the design process.  “Well, the design process doesn’t differ a whole lot (from game design) for me.  For a game you work more in Photoshop (if it’s mainly 2D) and for a video more in a 3D applications or in After Effects.  But it’s not that different - the implementation for a game is vastly more complex, though.”

Wanting to know more about the tools of Eckert’s trade, I asked him to continue on which software he uses for each aspect of his graphics and games.  “(Adobe) Photoshop and Illustrator for imagery and After Effects, Maya and Cinema 4D for moving images.  The game uses a lot of code for the animations, so (Apple) Xcode would also be important to name here.”

Finally, I was curious as to what Eckert has planned for the future of Wide Sky.  “I’m currently taking it step-by-step and I’m looking more into renovating the behind-the-scenes a bit for now.  But who knows what the future might hold.”

Thanking him for his time (via email) as he was in Germany and I in the US, I shutdown my computer and proceeded to do what any other gamer would do after talking about such a cool title - I got back to playing Wide Sky.

Check out Marcus Eckert’s website for more information on Wide Sky and about Motion Graphics.  If you have any interest in seeing some really unique, commercial graphics and gameplay, browsing his website will definitely whet your appetite.

Thanks for reading, and please let me know your thoughts on Wide Sky, Motion Graphics and graphical design in the comments section below.

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