Iconoclasm & Nomenclature

I’ve been drawing icons for skill abilities in Dungeons of Dredmor. When creating your character at the start of the game, you choose seven skills for yourself. As you advance these skills through use, you gain new special abilities. Today I’ve drawn up some abilities for the axe skill and will discuss icon images and giving the skills their names.

To quickly take up a tangent on the design decision to have these skill abilities: In RPGs mages have traditionally had the most diverse abilities which translates to having more¬† enjoyable game-choices to make. Do you cast fireball? Teleport? Ice shield? Do you “paralyze nerves, shatter bones, set fires, suffocate an enemy or burst his organs”? Meanwhile, a warrior can choose to either attack or not attack. And why would you ever not attack? Yes, the warrior is ideally more of an item-driven class, but why deny certain character archetypes whole swaths of gameplay, be it special abilities/spells or item management? Compare Diablo 1 with Diablo 2 and you see the solution Blizzard took: Give every class spell-like abilities. (And give every class useful item progression.) New editions of D&D, even, have taken up the spell-like ability for non-magic classes. The lesson is clear: It is important to give the player important decisions to make in the course of playing the game.

And now for the icons:

These are the sub-abilities of the axe skill. Each gives a unique combat effect or shaped area-attack. As originally planned, these icons are displayed at 32×32 pixels in-game, the smaller size in the above sheet, but it does the painted icons some harm to shrink them so much. It might be more appropriate to draw these as native pixel-art at the target resolution (as I did with the spell icons), but I feel it loses some character — and takes a lot longer. Time is money, friend.

As for naming, everything in Dredmor is rightly a bit silly. If a name can contain a pun or a joke, I’m all for it. If it sounds awesomely overblown, it’s good. If it just sounds like it belongs in a cheesy fantasy game, it’ll do. At some point a name feels right, it’s like writing a gag in a comic strip or coming up with a good zinger. This is not to say that everything in Dredmor is really all that good, I’m just trying to do my best with what I can deliver in a reasonable timeline. To borrow a line from Hemmingway, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit.” … And that goes for the art, too.

Let me take you on a tour of my thoughts about each ability icon.

1. Horn Thrust

I couldn’t help myself with the name; It sounds possible that it is naughty, but deniably so, so it’s in. And it is apparently the description of how one might actually fight with an axe, according this page on viking axe-fighting I read for inspiration for these skill names (always do your research!).

The graphic is decent enough, but I feel I could emphasize the point of the axe better because it is not where the eye is drawn at first glance. #2 is more successful at focusing attention in accord with the theme of the icon.

2. Hook Maneuver

Inspired by the viking axe-fighting page again, but there isn’t much of a joke. Can’t win ’em all. The eye is drawn to the correct place on the graphic, at least.

3. Felling Sweep

I quite like the image, but it seems too close-in and intimate a shot for a “sweep”. In general, I feel that the close-up shots of the character’s face not only convey the most feeling but scale down to the small icon size the best. The close-up view is not always appropriate for the theme of the icon though.

4. Butchering Cleave

I wonder if it’s too much over-the-top gore, but then again Dredmor is about practicing good taste as-such. At least I was good enough to remove “buttock” from the random name generator. This icon also looks too much like #5, the composition is about the same arc of blood and gore, but it is less focused.

5. Blood Crescent

A dark and broody image; I pushed the colors darker so it looks like a silhouette to emphasize the crescent of the name. Perhaps I should use this approach in more of the icons.

6. Dismemberment

This version of the icon is an, ahem, chopped down version of my first version to focus more on the important parts of the action, but I’ve rather lost the severed tentacle. (You’d be surprised at how often this comes up in my daily life.) The composition is half-filled with the octopus-monster-thing rather than the idea of dismemberment, which makes the icon a bit unclear.

7. Viking Strike

Outrageous beards are cool and this skill carries on with the general Viking undercurrent in Dredmor.¬† I can’t express how this image pleases me, even if it lacks focus on the action; It feels more like a noun than a verb, if you know what I mean.

8. The Axenado

Every game has a “whirlwind attack” skill. This is so much better.

9. Reckless Hew

Looks more like he’s violently hoeing his garden. Likely to end up a do-over.

10. Norwegian Onslaught

Certainly this ability is gained at the pinnacle of axe mastery. I’m not even sure what it does, but it makes me happy.

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