This Developer Blog is copied verbatim from the RuneScape website. It is copyrighted by Jagex.
It is written by Mod Joe and is dated 17 April 2009.

Hi guys, I’m Mod Joe, RuneScape's Art Director, and I’d like to give a rough overview of one of our graphical improvement projects. This will hopefully give you insight into how we choose projects for improvements and also take you through the different art departments that will then produce the final game assets. In this first part, I’ll talk about the concept stage. In the second part, we’ll go through modelling of game assets, such as creatures and scenery, then, in the third part, we will give you an overview of what it takes to bring things to life through the animation process.

The art team works very closely with the rest of the content developers, and when I heard that Mod Ingrid had been given the final part of the Fairy Tale trilogy to start briefing, my initial reaction was that we’ve gotta improve that area first. Zanaris itself had already undergone one graphical improvement a few years ago, but I think it’s important not to understate how much both the engine and our tools have changed since then. Many years ago, when I first started at Jagex, the art team size was only three artists (!) and we did everything (modelling, animation, mapping, etc) ourselves. Now, in 2009, we have a team of sixteen very talented artists who all specialise in one of three areas: 2D concept artwork, 3D modelling or animation. In the first part of this diary, I’d like to take you through the first stage: the concept stage...

Old Zanaris

Originally, Zanaris was just a standard brown dungeon. I recall we overhauled it to look a little ‘bluer’ a few years ago, but it never really looked as ‘magical’ as it could.

Fairy comparison

Screenshots of Zanaris as it was in 2004, and how it looked after the 'bluer' rework in 2006.

There is also the issue that the fairy race itself could be improved, both in terms of modelling and animation. Back three years ago we had limited time, artists and tools, but now that we have our specialist artists and a much-improved game engine, we have a greater degree of flexibility in how we create the different areas of the game.

Given that a new quest was to take place in Zanaris, we decided to give the area a total rework, both in terms of the fairy race themselves and their environment. Once we knew this, I spoke to one of our concept artists, Mod GG, to get some ideas on what we could do.

New queen

One of our goals in the concept stage is getting the balance right between ideas that are unique, but which are also immediately recognisable for players who are new to the game. When we looked at the original fairies, one of the first issues we had was that they were way too small - you can’t see them very well and they don't have enough definition. The first thing that Mod GG did was to sketch a new fairy character that had a much better silhouette and which would be much more ‘readable’ as a fairy.

Fairy queen

Variations on the new look for fairies, using the Fairy Queen as a basis.

House work

In terms of the fairies' houses we knew that we wanted them to stay pretty tree-based and close to nature. We experimented with a few different ideas and, at one point in the concept stage, we investigated making the fairies more insect-like, with more emphasis on quick-beating wings and fly-like eye clusters instead of the traditional human eyes. This is something that was echoed in the brown, wax-like tree in the image below; as you can see, it’s more of a nest than an actual home. Given the types of furniture that would also have to be designed (and given the back-history of the fairy culture), we decided not to go down this route, which is why, in the end, we wanted to go with something relatively traditional.

Fairy houses

Concept art of fairy tree-houses.

In the mood

I’ll leave you with our final mood image for Zanaris. As you can see, it's nice, bright and colourful, which we feel is definitely right for the area of game the fairies live in. Tune in next time to see how we approach modelling.

Fairy zanaris

'Mood' artwork for the redesigned Zanaris.

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