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Visualizing Free Realms: An interview with Art Director Rosie Rappaport

Shawn Schuster

If you've been following the development of SOE's Free Realms lately, you're probably pretty excited about everything it has to offer. If you haven't been following its development, check out our extensive coverage and exclusive interviews with its developers. Ready for even more exclusive interviews? Good, because just last week Massively sat down with Rosie Rappaport, the Art Director for Free Realms, to chat about the game's distinctive art style and the concept process involved.

Since Free Realms is different from anything else out there currently, its style and feel are very important to its brand. This was a special challenge for Ms. Rappaport, coming off of her time as Art Director for EverQuest years earlier. Check out the complete interview below the jump, and be sure to peruse our Free Realms gallery for the sixteen additional concept art pieces showing everything from landscape and environmental imagery to the progression of character wearables.

Gallery: Free Realms | 99 Photos

Massively: Can you tell us about your role as the Art Director for Free Realms and an introduction to the concept art itself?

Rosie Rappaport: I'm the Art Director, and I was the Art Director on EQ, and it was a very interesting experience. I learned a lot from that and I really wanted to take what I learned from that and apply it to another MMO. I was really excited to get a chance to work on Free Realms and take all that I wanted to do and put it into this new product. We've focused on trying to make a very consistent art style across the entire 3D world and in the UI, the mini games, the website, and the entire presentation of the game. It has all been designed and concepted really carefully. The colors are carefully considered and concepted before we even start. We've tried as much as possible to concept every piece of 3D art in the game because we want it to be very obvious when you look at a simple object like a bench or a chair, let alone a house, and be able to tell that it's from Free Realms. We wanted people to be able to look at an object and tell that it was from Free Realms.

Since it's aimed at a younger audience, was this a special challenge?

Well, since the EQ days I've had 3 kids and they're right in the age of our target market, so I'm pretty familiar with what kids are into and what they're interested in. The game is stylized to be more cartoony, colorful, whimsical, lighthearted, playful. We really tried to have a good time with it. We let that show through the game itself.

Do you think that could carry over to an older audience as well?

I think so. It appeals to me and I'm not in the target age range. I think it does appeal to older players and that the gameplay style will appeal to older players as well.

Is there anything specific you can tell us about the concept art pieces we have here?

These are examples of how we start the process. We start with these color paintings to establish a style and feel. Then we check with design to see that it matches up to their expectations, if they want the art to be bright and happy for fairies or they want it to be scary with zombies. We collaborate on that and make sure that everyone is happy with the initial concepts. We pull from that the palette and we concept out all of the shapes so that everything has the distinctest silhouette as possible and matches into this Free Realms style.

We also have some pencil sketches to show you, which are the next step. We concept all of the items that sit on the environment. And I have a silhouette study to show you, that is how we design 6 or 12 different silhouettes, and we decide which silhouette looks the best and then concept it from there.

The other concepts that I've got here are concepts of the characters. The characters, the whole idea is that they are very fun and whimsical. Some are more serious, scary or mysterious, and some are just pretty silly.

Dwarf: The idea with him is that he's sort of like a biker gang sort of guy: really strong and still kind of comical. The dwarves are really mechanical, they have created the cars that are in the racing game and all of the raceways.

Troll: They live throughout Sacred Grove which is the first region that we're going to be launching with, the one that I sent you was the Shaman, he's the boss of the trolls.

Changeling: Part of the storyline, they are the fallen fairies that have been enchanted and are supposed to be lovable, but are kind of sad and a little bit creepy. You can see when you look at them they each have their own color palette. The changelings are designed to go right into Briarwood, so their colors are all purples and greens.

Bixie: These are a nod to a character we had on EQ, so we wanted to reintroduce that into Free Realms just for fun. These Bixies go into the Sanctuary which is the capital city of Sacred Grove. They're collecting and making honey, which is in some of the combat encounters around the area, you find some of their honey hives.

A lot of different games have bosses and they will have a certain color palette for a certain boss, is that something that's going on in Free Realms?

No we've made the bosses special or different in various ways. They may be bigger or brighter, but they don't necessarily stick out from the environment. We also have a really special UI that was designed by our Associate Art Director. Our idea with the UI is that it's very tangible. Even though it is 2D it has a very playful and tangible quality. The icons are all made to look like little toys, so everything just feels like you want to touch it, click on it, you want to play with it.

I heard recently that the launch was set for April.

Katie Hanson: We're sticking to Q2.

Ok, and there will be a beta soon?

Katie: The beta will be coming within a few weeks, yes.

So I imagine everything is in line with that and progressing well?

Rosie: We're working day and night.

Katie: Literally.

Was there anything else as far as the concept art process? Or anything else about the uniqueness of the art style that you wanted to point out?

Rosie: We've focused on some keywords that we go by. Whimsical is one of the big words, also playful and, vibrant. We always have to consider that we're accomplishing these things with every single piece of art we make. The shapes are very whimsical, they are very organic. There's also a simplicity, even though people look at the game and they think it 's very detailed. If you look at the individual objects that are in the world, each object itself is very simple and clean. We give the scenes themselves the opportunity to come together as a whole rather than focusing on individual pieces. In some of those ways we were really able to learn a lot from past games, and we have a very talented and experienced team of artists and coders and designers. They have really made this game something that is really special for us. We all have kids, we all want to make something that is really fun.

You were just talking about the UI and the interactivity with the environment. What can you tell us about the interactivity a player will have with the environments you create?

There are objects in the game that you can click on to initiate mini games or quests. There are quite a few different nodes, which are the points at which you'd enter a mini game. They could be as simple as a cooking table to enter a cooking game, which could be a 2D cooking game. Or it could be as large as the whole entire raceway facade, which is the entrance of the huge racing coliseum. We also have collections within the game, so there's quite a bit of objects that you can find in the world and pick up.

Something that we didn't even touch on is that there's a whole world of wearables that you can dress your character with and collect, these are all concepted. It is a major component of the game, and there are wearables for your pets, there are sets of wearables to collect so that you have the entire set of red ninja wearables for your cat or the princess outfit for your dog.

Thank you for your time!

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