Category Archives: Digital Painting

Short on Slots – Gladiators

Articles to come:
More on Hierarchy
Mobile First
Better Anticipation
Fast localisation of Graphical text.
and more…

The Why

Everyone thinks they can design art for slots – and many companies treat the art process separately from the rest of development – either reskinning existing games or making Art packs by theme and (maybe) using them once the right feature has been decided on by the product team.
In my opinion, this is detrimental to the overall player experience.

Yes, these are gambling games so ultimately if the math and features are attractive to the player and (s)he has an enjoyable experience then it’s entirely possible that an ugly game can go on to be a great success. What I propose here is that the art needs to attract the player initially (good quality assets for the marketing team) and relate the math and features to the player – if the player needs to refer to the info pages (paytable) then chances are something isn’t quite right in the design.

Launch Icon

Here you can see a screenshot from the Sky Casino and Casumo sites. When a game is created they are usually accompanied by a marketing pack – unfortunately, the studio doesn’t always have control of what images are used by the licensee (Sky). It’s often up to individuals within the studio to try to pressure the licensee to replace or improve these launch Icons.
Studios often create bespoke assets for top tier licensees but that doesn’t mean they will get used. In the case of many of these games, there will be bespoke 2 line versions of the logo – yet looking at games like Pharaoh’s Treasure and Murder Mystery, these logo’s are barely legible.

We’ll be looking at these 2 gladiator games in a little more depth. The launch icons – both quite poor – are similar. The one of the left just being slightly better as it has the character silhouette. Players familiar with the film should recognise this as the main character and generally – having characters is more appealing. Note, however, that having a character on launch icons is often discouraged – there are a number of reasons for this, for example, legislation around the potential of being accused of marketing to under 18s. The game on the right is called Gladiator Road to Rome – there is a variant of this logo where you can read the sub-title – and that variant should have been used. As it stands, a player could think this is a rip-off.

Gladiators do battle

The aim of good slot design should be to relate the math model and features to the player. If players need to go to the info (help) pages to understand the game then you’ve missed the mark.
In an ideal world, we would know the math models of the games so we can understand what the producer had in mind – what sort of hit frequency we’re looking at and the volatility.

Looking at Gladiators paytable we can see that there is a noticeable hierarchy in the symbols with Commodus being 5000x payout for 5 of a kind. Followed by Lucilla at 1000x a significant but not uncommon dip and Graccus a 3rd less again.

The Royal symbols also have quite an internal hierarchy however it can be argued that considering the payouts on royals is not very significant that they can be pushed back visually to let other symbols have more prominence.

Focussing on the character symbols and the hierarchy or in this case the lack of. If you look at the in-game screenshot you can see that if anything Proximo (Oliver Reed) has the most noticeable symbol with his dark turban framing the face – making the symbol noticeable even during the spin. He also has the strongest silhouette, is slightly zoomed in (largest face) and breaks the inner square of the symbol most – at the shoulders but also on the left with the turban.

Commodus, the supposed highest paying symbol, shares practically the same colour as one of the lowest paying characters. The picture chosen is not ideal his expression is not attractive, he’s collapsing in on himself making him seem smaller than he is.

Anyone familiar with the film will wonder where Russell Crowes’ Maximus is. Not unsurprisingly he’s not part of the licence. The other two key icons the scatter and Wild are altogether disappointing. Clearly the wild relates to the Gladiator character but the entire symbol is an uninspiring grey. Wild symbols substitute for all other symbols and in this came also enter you into the jackpot bonus so this should be a symbol that really attracts the player. The same goes with the scatter – if you absolutely need to write the word scatter on the symbol to convey it’s important then it’s not good enough.

These issues are not helped by the transparent reel and very large royals.
The quick fixes I would make; Resize the symbols to show hierarchy, scale down all the royals. Address the colouring of the symbols – you don’t always have to have a Warm (high) cold (low) hierarchy in colour so here we can mute the lower symbols and royals (browns and greys). I will assume for the moment that there were no other usable shots of Commodus – we’ll change his colour to a Royal Purple (increased size of the character and breaking more of the frame). Wild will be gold. I would also change the shape of the scatter – perhaps a circle or ovoid extending into the symbols above and below (this would allow better near misses as well).
As you can see now – it’s much clearer that the Purple Commodus symbol and the Wild are the most important symbols – the scatter would still need the proposed work done.

This is the Gladiator Road to Rome game – as you can see from the images the same source files were used and at first glance there a number of the same issues. We can surmise that there wasn’t a lot of option then re. character assets.

Again having a look at the paytable show that in this case, the character payouts are much closer together ranging from 500x to 250x for 5 of a kind vs 5000x to 250x in the other Gladiator game. There are also fewer characters and one of the characters has the visor down – making him less human and thus lower in the hierarchy. The big difference here is that the main character from the film is present as the top paying symbol and it will turn Wild if landed fully. This is clearly the most important base game symbol when it comes to payouts. The means that the other character hierarchy becomes less important – as long as they are clearly subservient to the gladiator symbol the art functions. Compare that with the first Gladiator game and you might think that Commodus (the Emperor) symbol is what you are looking for to score the bigger wins.

Notwithstanding that the art in Road to Rome is simply more modern and better, there additional consideration to the symbols is noticeable -take the scatter and bonus symbols. The scatter symbol is a bespoke piece of art not reliant on the limited film assets and with the reduced number of symbols the colour blue has been freed up to use. With the Bonus symbol, the frames present in both games are broken by the helm. In addition, you notice the character symbol frames dip inwards where the scatter and bonus frame protrude outwards – these touches add depth that is lacking in the first game and once again help with the legibility and hierarchy of the game.

Giant Slayer BTS

A Brush Sauce Theatre Submission.

I decided to join the monthly BTS competition run by Tyler Edlin.
The Challenge was as follows:
Giant must be:
• Giant • Humanoid
• In an Action Pose
• Set in the late afternoon/early evening/twilight hour
To view example images and hear Tyler explaining the challenge in full:

The ‘reward’ for the competition is basically to have Tyler Edlin review and feedback on your work – so we’ll see what he says and maybe make some more changes.

My Submission, I wanted to experiment with dynamic symmetry for a better composition. I probably over did it a bit but I’m happy with the overall outcome. This was mostly done on an Ipad Pro with a few touches done on PC. Yes there are some unfinished areas and the girl could have more interesting elements to her design but hopefully I’ll get some interesting feedback and then I might come back and do a little more work on the piece.

The idea here is that these little evil smurf people have tricked the evil giant woman using the sweet smell of bacon and steak.
You can tell she’s evil because of here Goth makeup. I was considering going just metal bikini, as a homage to Frank Frazetta and generally there is a troupe of more revealing outfit = more evil (I’m looking at you Princess Aurora from Flash Gordon.) But in this day and age I’m not sure people would get it.

Moodboard, sketch and final submission.

Update 06/09/2019

So the video went up the feedback was:
Really nice visual story telling
Bit of a tangent with the runners head a rope.
The main changes suggested was around the colour – I have been wondering if my monitor is setup right (have been trying some variations so that might have played a part). In short adding more grey / realistic colours in for areas of visual rest.

I had a play with the colours – personally I feel this is less stylised than I had in mind, but probably more balanced and it does make make it feel like I would need to paint up the characters in the background and go for a realistic skin tone for the runner. It would have been nice to get a little bit more feedback but I’ll just take that as a complement that there wasn’t anything else to pick out.

A note to anyone who decides to join the BTS competitions, I hadn’t noticed before but Tyler doesn’t zoom in on the images so I wouldn’t worry about smaller details and bear in mind some things might get lost – for instance the little guys holding the rope – they need to be more legible when zoomed out like they view in the review.

Reviewing the piece myself now that some time has passed – I would say yes dropping the saturation if the right way to go. The characters (especially those holding on to the rope) do need more detail and the skin tone needs to be more realistic. The design on the Giant needs more work too, it’s a little too basic and needs some more character in the outfit and accessories. The giants feet need more work ( I rushed them) so they correctly sit in the scene. And finally it just needs that extra day spent on clean up and polish.

All in all quite an enjoyable piece to work on.

Monkey Island 2, Guybrush Falling

I based on the classic Monkey Island 2 game intro.
Guybrush Threepwood falling and holding on to the Big Whoop Treasure.

Click to enlarge any image!

Monkey Island 2 Guybrush Falling
Monkey Island 2 Guybrush Falling

I decided to add Murray the demonic skull to the front of the big whoop chest just to make it a bit more interesting.

Looks a bit like a book cover which is what I was going for.

Shot I started off with this shot from Monkey Island 2:

GuybrushFalling ScreenShot1


I started doing some thumbnails of the pose, trying to figure out what I wanted.
I was looking for a pose that felt mid-motion and at an odd angle so I could have some perspective distortion going on.


I choose a thumbnail and scaled it up about 300%.
Bigger than a thumbnail so I can get anatomy working properly but not so big that I need to get details right.


Next step – cleaning up the line art. I’ve been toying with dropping this step because committing to the line art tends to push my pictures in a certain direction and style.

GuybrushFalling_ SketchSteps_1

During the line art process I also looked at the overall composition, I wanted some nice spiral in the picture. I had a feeling the arm and chest position was close but off a little. But I already had in mind that I’d try and be flexible with this later in the process – I wanted to crack on. If this was a paid job or if there was an actual background in this picture I would have fixed the issue at this point. The background is going to be basically black so I new I could fix it later.

Guybrush Falling Steps_Sprials
Guybrush Falling Steps_Sprials

The main reason for creating this picture was that I wanted to approach it a little different from what I usually do.

Normally I would block out the colours and then add lighting.
This time I wanted to get the black and white version of the picture 90% done first. Focusing on just the value and lighting definitely made this picture work easier and faster than my normal approach.

Guybrush Falling_Steps_2 LineArt

Next I blocked out the colours. I set most of the layers to overlay or colour – this got me relatively close to where I needed to be. To be honest, when I looked at tutorials, other people seemed to get a much -closer to final- look. So maybe I’m doing something wrong here.

Guybrush Falling Steps_3 BW
Guybrush Falling

At this point I basically merged the character down and started painting over the top of everything. I didn’t try to accommodate or use the black and white layer by changing layer states of anything. Just straight up painted.

I tend to use a basic Photoshop round hard brush and I change the transparency of the brush between 60-80%.

Guybrush Falling Steps_4 Colour
Guybrush Falling

Guybrush Falling Chest
Guybrush Falling

In this last step I fixed the composition; you can see below that the Golden spirals line up much better and the two heads are now on two-thirds lines.

Adjusting the chest and the arm as well as moving the character to the right to fit in a nicer spiral. A found some pictures on-line of dust moats and added these behind and in front of the character to add a bit of interest and detail in the cave and a bit of depth.

I took the logo from the web and added the 2 from another Monkey Island logo.

Finally, a little bit of colour adjustment, and I also took all the character layers + chest, merged them down and blurred the image. I took that layer and had it as  a soft glow overlay.

Guybrush Falling Steps_6
Guybrush Falling Steps_6

Painterly Style – Kylo Ren

I wanted to try my hand at a more painterly style when I stumbled on Aaron Griffin, really liked his style – you can see below the results of about 40min work, it’s a surprisingly quick style.

You can download his brushes here:

Stills of his process.