• Mark Hannafin

Visual Art of Game Design #1

The Last of Us

The Last of US is a video game developed by Naughty Dog. It was released initially on PlayStation 3, and subsequently remastered for the PlayStation 4. If you are into Games, then you definately heard of it and if you haven’t played it yet……DO! It is an amazing game, beautifully designed, with a fantastic story and seamless gameplay.

In this blog we won’t be just looking at the gameplay, however. This blog will focus on the game from a visual design or graphic design perspective, from the cover art and main menu to the pause menu and the elements of graphic design that appear as you play the game.

To start, will consider the cover art. If you can, try looking at the game from the perspective of someone who never played video games or those who may not have the time to indulge. If those who are less familiar with video games were to pick up this game would they be able to identify the premise of the game? Take the text, for example, which is large, bold white text that stands out with slight faded patches. This along with the words themselves (The Last of Us) certainly indicates that the game is set in a post-apocalyptic setting where humanity has been eradicated and only a few remain.

The imagery on the cover does this in a more pronounced way. Here we have the two protagonists Joel and Ellie walking through what looks like a marshland or swamp but this swamp seams to be meandering between the buildings of a dilapidated city. Plants have taken over and started covering building and windows. Two crippled vehicles, one over Ellie’s shoulder to the right and the other under the text, show signs of massive weathering and rusting. The pair are turned looking behind them, as if startled by something and both display an anxious expression. All this imagery is seen by the viewer and understand almost automatically, enabling them get a glimpse into the setting of the story.

At the start of the game we are presented with a most simplistic yet effective, short cinematic video. The Image (shown above) shows an old broken wooden window. A strong, overgrown plant has burst its way into the room from the outside; the walls look damp and rundown and the curtains are torn. All this is presented to us with just a small piece of text ‘Press Any Button’ in the bottom left corner.

Moving to the main menu, with the clip still playing in the background we see the text expand to outline the menu options available. In the image above, notice the highlighted text (THE LAST OF US) which is pushed out to the right, giving an indication of what option you are currently selecting. There is also a clear understanding of hierarchy between the main menu and the description. The main menu is all in upper case and the description is in lower case. Also, the description is pushed out to the right in line with the option you currently have selected. A very simple but effective way of presenting the main menu options.

As you play the game, other icons, menus and hints appear, to help you navigate and interpret the world. The health bar, current weapon equipped, and melee weapon icon are all visible during conflict or when the player takes a weapon out. As the player walks about these icons fade away and allow you to enjoy the scenic views this world has to offer. It might be somewhat of a boast from the developers, but in The Last of Us there so many beautiful landscape views and cinematic videos we will forgive them for showing off.

The quick select menus allows you to pick between the various tools on offer, such as side arms, bombs, health packs and more. To do this, press the up, down or left and right buttons for quick and easy access at any time. The icon colour is white and whatever section you are on is indicated by a white box around the edge. The colour of the icons is in stark contrast with the bleak dark world of the game and they stand out well, similar to the logo on the cover. Coincidence? I think not! Weapons or tools that you have run out of or are empty, appear as though faded away and a red zero draws your attention to the problem.

The crafting menu is straightforward. On the left, you select the item you wish to craft. Then on the right, instructions inform you how to create the weapon or health pack. Below this is the list of materials that can found lying around, by the player. To craft a ‘Melee Upgrade’ (right image above) you need ‘Binding’ and a ‘Blade’ to successfully craft an upgrade. In the image to the left, the ‘Binding’ and ‘Blade’ are shown in red indicating that this item cannot be upgraded.

In this post-apocalyptic world, when you select the crafting or weapons menus, you notice the game play doesn’t stop. Your character sways and enemies can even attack you, creating another element to this survival game. The idea being you must prepare for any inevitability beforehand, not during the heat of battle. This leaves parts of the story with a feeling of unease, and in turn makes the game more intriguing and realistic.

As you can see, game design isn’t just about the levels, characters, or the story. All are vital parts to a game but without the help of visual design, players would get frustrated, and people wouldn’t buy the game. Visual Design helps in understanding the game, so the user experience must meet the satisfaction of the player. Imagine playing this or any game not knowing where to go, how to change weapons or how many bullets you have left! It might only be a small aspect of the overall design and maybe something that is overlooked by most players. However, that is what good design is all about - when it works people don’t even acknowledge its presence but when it doesn’t all hell breaks loose. Visual Design plays an integral part in making our lives that much easier in both the real and not so real worlds we explore. Thank you for reading.