The Vault Suit
Designing, or redesigning the vault suit meant adhering to canon, and updating the textures and tactile feel for the detail we can achieve now in games. I opted for a more durable denim like material, something quintessentially American and, suited to carrying out vault tasks involving heavy machinery and crawling through metal pipes.
Overall, the vault suit seems to represent an Everyman/Everywoman uniform of conformity, and a blank canvas for accessorizing once the wearer had escaped into the harsh environment of the wasteland. Preserving the retro 50’s flavor seemed to support this, and I wanted the suit to feel at home in a classic 50’s sci-fi film like Forbidden Planet. The reinforced elbows and knees seemed to introduce a bit of that flair to the otherwise oppressively Orwellian environment.
Industrial design is such an interesting thing, especially when you’re trying to reflect the projection of a society’s dreams of the future onto a…coffee machine. As a team we poured over antique magazine ads, and articles trying to capture the essence of a society quite frankly, we didn’t grow up in. The prevailing theme was an almost aggressive enthusiasm for all things future and atom powered. Rocket fins, chrome flanges and vents of any kind, the more superfluous the better. The materials list technologically, never advance beyond the 50’s aesthetic.
That meant vacuum tubes versus circuits, bakelite versus modern plastics. The most mundane objects would be tricked out as though ordered from a Googied out AV catalogue with the ensuing wide glide, streamlined fonts. In full knowledge of the nuclear nightmare this make believe society was hurtling towards, the opportunities for high parody became numerous. The trick was to not step on the toes of a personal hero of mine, Terry Gilliam, whose films are densely laden with those sight gags, but at least emulate the richness of detail that would hold up to repeated viewings and stay fresh.
By a building’s basic silhouette I wanted to connotate its prior use. Hotels and entertainment structures were certainly zippier, Googier, and space age, than the brooding bunker like civic structures. Streamline and deco would of course take a ubiquitous bow, as they figured prominently in the original and we wanted to preserve that flavor. Additionally, they created unexpected and compelling shapes when half destroyed and festooned with chromed out hood ornament valkyries and brooding senator heads. A nice counterpoint, eminently repeatable shapes came from emulating Corbusier”s “machines for living”, and other Utopian type residential structures.
I tried to learn as much about that kind of architectural aesthetic when the streets were in danger of getting too much of a campy “Jetsons” look. I learned that Googie Architecture got its name from a coffee shop designed by John Lautner. I found his other architecture quite beautiful, as well. Emulating these styles produced an impressive variety of interesting shapes that became a lego set for the level designers to build cities with. It’s always awesome to see these environments approaching that final polish, with all of the elements coming together in ways I didn’t expect. The final addition of the small details really propelled the apocalyptic grandeur of the destroyed world we are creating. As a stage for storyline and ensuing conflicts the player will find him herself in, the results are thus far fantastic. Populating this world with the various monsters, enemies and ambient critters is something I‘ll address next.
Robbie the Robot, but meaner. The parts would be vintage spaceship, that in my research provide the right metals and was inspired a hands on yet menacing array of doo-dads that invoked a retro insectoid knobbiness, hostile and slightly goofy. I always like strange details on a machine that hint at a mysterious yet sinister and efficiently harmful purpose. Mark, our sound engineer was generally enthused to create the sounds for these machines, the end results of which make me yearn for a slew of action figures and toys powered with demon electricity.
Ambient Creatures and Enemies
Nature gets uglier, bigger, and riddled with tumors, growths, hideous discolorations, excretions and where needed, extra appendages. Anatomy became a lego set, and like the weapons I wanted the new arrangements to not only look like they’d work, but also be deadly and contribute to superior speed, shielding and oversized pokey-stabby bits. Resilience to radiation would be a blessing and a curse, the curse part resulting in a perpetual state of pissed off, like someone with a body sized cold sore. The gross out factor possibilities were enormously fun and generally involved some manner of organic internal projectile or flail.
Due to these creatures common origins the old predator vs. prey relationships remained intact to create a twisted ecosystem. I imagined “Marlin Perkins Mutated Wasteland Kingdom Presents” and scribbled notes on possible encounter scenarios.
The human counterparts, the indigenous malevolent rustics, who would be merely hostile, would outfit themselves like David Lynch designing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3000. The trick as always was to come up with something unique, for a sci-fi scenario we’ve all seen many times. My aid is to anticipate the personalities to help flesh out a villain, and I‘ll often cast my favorite actors as being this type of character to invent their costume, personal effects and how they’ve been weathered. Every time they start to mutate on their own and develop in ways I didn’t anticipate, I do my best to document it in a way that clearly communicates to the rest of the team what I’ve found.
On an end note, concerning all of these drawings, the design process is never over, and if it weren’t for deadlines I could revisit any of these drawings ad infinitum. During our meetings, I think the strongest designs elicited a variety of reactions, from “hmmmmm”, or “yeeaaaaah” or “that’s not it”. An unsolicited “hell yeeeeeah!” response from the rest of the team, without me having to say anything as an explanation to sell the idea meant I had done my job. And the ones that I liked, that no one else seemed to get, got relegated to the Island Of Rejected Misfit Monsters That Might Find Another Use Someday.
“There, there, lil’ fella, just wait for a little while, some child somewhere will love you someday!” No design is ever a waste of time, even if it only serves to points you towards another possibility. So far, the fun continues unabated.