Sudeki Evolution: ArtKevin Gifford
It's been an ominously long time since Xbox fans have heard much concrete about the development of Sudeki, Microsoft's shot at the "traditional" console-RPG genre. The last playable version of the game was shown at E3 2003, and little new has been revealed since -- nothing big on the story, characters, or battle system. All that is about to change shortly, for two reasons: one, the game's actually nearing completion (it's set for a summer release), and two, 1UP's hooked up with U.K. developer Climax to get you the goods on this impressive-looking effort.
For the first part of our "Sudeki Evolution" series, we turned to James Brace, art director at Climax and one of the top bods behind the Sudeki project. He's responsible for the game's art and character style, which makes him a rather interesting person to talk to, since the characters in Sudeki have flip-flopped between realistic, anime-style, and nearly everywhere in between during the development progress. Here are his comments on Sudeki's main cast:
Click for more character art and screens
"At the start of Sudeki's development, we had a style that was adorable and quite clearly Japan-inspired. This initial style, created in pre-production, was aimed at attracting fans of the Japanese-style RPG genre, as well as Japanese animation. Focus-testing produced results that encouraged us to push the boundaries and experiment with the style further. We wanted to try something a little more adventurous and unique that appealed to a wider audience.
We found that the child-bodied anime-style characters were generally a little too unfamiliar and confusing to some people, especially since the North American market was our primary target audience. Male lead heroes with long blond hair, big sparkly eyes and feminine physiques do not necessarily conjure up a character you would want to idolize and/or control if you've never played a Japanese RPG before. One focus testing session in particular proved memorable when a player referred to Tal as a 'cool chick.'
Niki Broughton, our award-winning concept artist, is very fond of the work of Japanese artists such as Yoshitaka Amano (the Final Fantasy series, Vampire Hunter D), Nobuteru Yuuki (of Escaflowne fame) and more recently the Korean artist Hyung-Tae Kim. With this great talent heavily influenced by anime and our goals for the game, the game's stylistic direction evolved to a new level, fusing what we felt to be the best of East and West. Because it has evolved over time, the game is original, it's fun, it's distinctive... it's Sudeki, a style of its own."
To get an idea of the character evolution Mr. Brace is talking about here, let's take a look at Sudeki's main cast, from the very first stab at their design to the finished characters you'll be seeing this summer:
The hero of the game, Tal is a young soldier in the kingdom of Hikaria, the son of a well-known general. As Sudeki begins, Tal is asked to investigate an ancient temple where reports tell of a portal unleashing dread monsters into the land.
Tal's very first character design reminded us of a lot of anime characters -- so many, in fact, that we couldn't think of a single personage he resembled. The outfit recalls several Wild Arms characters into our minds, but the head appears more at home on top of a magician's or wizard's body. Tal got a fair bit more athletic, however, and two hairstyle changes later, he's become the sort of fighter type that leads the way in most traditional RPGs.
A prodigy with magic, Ailish was spirited away as a young child by Talos, an assistant to Queen Lusica, and raised as the ruler's daughter within her castle. She immediately falls for Tal when he stumbles upon the castle, and it undoubtedly won't be very long before a bit of RPG-style romance erupts between the two.
The progression on Ailish's design is impressive, considering how different the first and last versions are. Ailish starts out looking like a character from an 8-bit RPG, then gradually gains height (and loses clothing) as time goes on. The assortment of magic crystals around her person would be enough to make a sensible fighter like Tal fall to his knees immediately, we're sure.
Queen Lusica's court scientist, Elco is a bright young lad busy conducting experiments on the containment and harnessing of pure magical power. He lost his left arm some time ago after one such experiment led to disaster -- the clockwork replacement was given to him by the Queen as a personal gift.
Judging by the character progression, though, this wasn't always Elco's back story -- in the beginning he appears more of a desert-warrior type, not unlike the hero of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. He then changed clothes and became a Mad Max-ish fighter (complete with bionic leg) before assuming the much more cheery outfit he has on today. (We're glad the beard-and-Dennis-Rodman-specs look didn't last very long.)
A lady who set the hearts of many a fanboy a-flutter during last year's E3 show, Buki is from the village of Shadani-Mo, home to a tribe of hunters. Her goal someday is to become chief warrior of the group, and her distrust of humans is something you will likely have to butt heads against more than once in the game.
While we're fans of Buki's initial pseudo-Native American look, gradual evolution led to a snappy red outfit and some nails that would have no problem getting the shrink-wrap off a game package. The shorter hairstyle is a relatively new addition.
Not much background info has been revealed on Queen Lusica's personal assassin yet, but it doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to figure that he's rather evil. It wasn't always this way, however -- his initial design makes him look like an enemy from Konami's Goemon series of cute action games. Since then, he's gotten all sorts of nasty-looking things attached to his body, all in fine Hellraiser condition. He must have trouble putting a coat on if it's cold outside.
The next installment of Sudeki Evolution, covering the programming that drives large-scale RPGs like this, will go up in February. Until then, stay on the line for more updates on the game -- we expect it to be front-and-center at E3 this year.
The Slow Boat to Tokyo
Sudeki is far from the first game to borrow art inspiration from Japanese comics and animation. In fact, there's a whole mess of 'em these days, signifying exactly how popular anime's become worldwide... that, or how many anime fans there are within game-development circles. Some examples that stick in our minds:
Jet Force Gemini (Nintendo, N64) -- Anime characters have big eyes, right? So do the heroes from Rare's least-remembered N64 game, right? So it follows, then, that JFG's characters are based off anime. (They look more like a Margaret Keane painting than any anime we've seen, but...)
Oni (Rockstar, PC/PS2) -- Bungie, developers of this fair-to-middlin' shooter, make no excuses about the inspiration for Konoko's look in this game. There's even a very complicated guide to drawing Konoko on Bungie's page, if you're interested in giving it a shot.
Spin Jam (Empire, PS) -- An otherwise unremarkable game got its cover electrified with this citrus-enhanced lady. We never thought we'd see the day where panty shots were standard issue on puzzle-game art, but that day has come, and we are scared.
Perfect Dark Zero (Microsoft, Xbox) -- Rare, not willing to stop at Jet Force Gemini, has done a bit of anime-style retooling to the design of Joanna Dark for her next game. Opinions are divided on it so far, but regardless of what people think, that blazing red hair can't be very good for stealth maneuvers.
Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in 1UP.