Hoth Strike colour, composition and Ralph McQuarrie


Ralph McQuarrie's inspirational painting of an AT-AT Walker on the surface of Hoth

Ralph McQuarrie's inspirational painting of an AT-AT Walker on the surface of Hoth

 Like any other game designer I take my inspiration from all manner of sources. Hoth Strike is a fairly easy one to research since the movie The Empire Strikes Back is one of the top grossing movies of all time. There is literally a truck load of material out there. Obviously I also have the movie on DVD so plugging and playing for research purposes is often called for.

But it’s the work of Ralph McQuarrie that provides the greatest inspiration and the painting above inparticular helped to define the palette for the game.

Blue and Orange sit together beautifully. As artists we all know that and in a lot of cases it’s been done to death. But in the image above it just says it all. What I love about it is that it excludes any evidence of snow and ice. It could just as easily have been a concept piece for a battle taking place on Tatooine. There’s nothing in that shot to suggest that the vehicles are engaged in a battle on an ice planet in sub-zero conditions.

Even without the exploding trail from an unfortunate Snow Speeder this image has drama. The walker looks menacing with it’s upward pointing head and gun turrets and clearly stands at a good height from the ground. (Anything with legs is unlikely to be flying, surely !) 
The speeder dashing past appears to be trailing a rope. The mind boggles as to it’s intention. On watching the movie obviously we know the outcome.

What strook me about this image is that there are about 5 or 6 clear colours that dominate.


At first I translated the colours literally in to the game. The sky was bright blue, the ice below was shades of light blue and white/grey and the probe droids were dark and bleak. I wanted to remain faithful to this painting and fought with it for the best results. Ultimately it didn’t work and I had to reluctantly rethink.

The droids just didn’t sit right against a bright sky. Infact I really didn’t like the sky like this. I had always envisaged a night sky bleeding in to the bright Hoth daylight. (note: I’d opted for a clear setting as opposed to the bleak setting in the movie where horizons were largely undefined) So I applied a stepped gradient to the background layer and placed an obligatory Atari/Activision sunset colour scheme behind the mountains. (I always loved those saturated sunsets in the early VCS titles).

The result was that I could create brighter and more cheery graphics and sprites to fly over the darkening sky. I instantly brightened up the main probe droid and coloured the “raider” tones of yellow and orange. The mutant probe is actually comprised of colours from the McQuarrie painting.

Better still I had the perfect backdrop for bright Star Wars lasers and a beautiful contrast with the snowy terrain below. At Software Creations and subsequently Acclaim I pixeled a hell of a lot so putting these images together was pure retro fun. I even created tiles that wrapped seamlessly as if still designing for the GameBoy :)

The rebel soldiers take their base colour from the same orange that drives the explosions which in turn is taken from the McQuarrie painting. (I should add here that I modified the colour levels on the painting in Photoshop before taking the colours out and plonking them in to my game palette)


So there we have a detail from a frame of the final game. 
I think the overall result is extremely satisfying and great fun to play.
The most important part of playing with colour schemes and composition is understanding the game and what you want the player to “experience”.
In Hoth Strike I was always going to move everything at pace. It was therefore vital that colours were clear and anything that moved, such as landscapes and alien missiles, were clearly defined. Otherwise the entire thing would have become a mud of colours and confusing to play.

I will be creating a second Hoth game at some point and when I ultimately put the finishing touches to this one the plot and scenario will become quite apparent.

I hope you enjoy playing the game as much as I do bleating on about it !

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