Amazon's New World is an upcoming massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) by Amazon Games. With a release date of 28 September 2021 announced, there isn't long to wait for Amazon’s first big multiplayer game. Set in the twilight Age of Exploration during an alternate 17th century, Amazon's New World will pit players against the haunted wilderness of Aeternum, introducing them to a wealth of curious characters and creatures. Players won't just explore this mysterious island, they'll establish territories, govern them, and set up their own homes.
From clothing to enemies, housing to the setting itself, Amazon's New World has a unique art style that allows players to become fully immersed in the world of Aeternum. To find out how the art team found inspiration, decided upon New World's art style, and ultimately brought their concepts to life, we caught up with associate art director Sojin Hwang and art director Charles Bradbury. Read on to discover their design secrets, and check out our top character design tips for more on creating characters.
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Hwang explains that the 17th century provided a starting point and loose inspiration for the design of New World. "The 17 century is called the age of exploration and discovery, causing many explorers to venture outside of their homeland and discover other parts of the world. We wanted players to have that sense of exploration, adventuring into the unknown. That is just the jumping-off point into the supernatural."
Hwang and the Amazon Games art team liked the idea of Aeternum as a realm where myths and legends become reality. "At this point and throughout history cultures all over the world have innumerable folktales about ghosts, monsters and other phenomena. Aeternum is where all those tall tales are actually true. So the overall art direction we wanted to have this contrast being grounded in reality while also embracing supernatural, and the fantasy elements that go with that."
Balancing fantasy and realism
The art team behind New World had a clear vision for balancing fantasy and realism when they developed the look of the game. "We wanted to create an immersive supernatural world," says Hwang, "we added fantastic and magical elements throughout the entire game so you should be able to encounter something unusual in every corner."
The world and creatures of the New World are designed to be exaggerated and dramatic yet believable. "It's all about visual contrast. We have this scary horrific forest, but you will find beautiful, lush nature as well. A lot of the time we use bold artistic visuals. We try to push as much as possible in some areas, but we also rely a lot on believable natural and familiar scenes to ground players so when we put these supernatural elements in this world it stands out even more."
Embracing new techniques and technology
The art team at Amazon Games are always looking for new and better ways to develop concept art. "I encourage my team to learn and be curious," adds Hwang, "we share Photoshop brushes and techniques between the team members. Some of the concept artists use 3D programs such as Maya, ZBrush, Blender to quickly generate ideas for creatures. It is a really efficient and quick way to create a lot of variations."
Visualising an MMORPG
The sheer volume of MMORPGs can make them a huge challenge to design. The nature of an online role-playing game means that a very large number of people can participate in New World simultaneously. "Everyone wants to look different from one another, which means we need a massive amount of content," Hwang explains. "We had to come up with drops for many of our expeditions, quest, events, and boss fights. Players should be able to craft or pick up as rewards different themed outfits and weapons. We wanted them to look very unique and creative."
Just as with the environment art, Amazon Games' art team wanted to maintain a level of relatability when we design the creatures of New World. Hwang explains: "They are familiar in terms of what they are, but when it comes to visuals, we tried to make it different by giving them unique structure, materials, and textures. There are many different types of enemies in the New World, though most of them fall into one of four families: Corrupted, Angry Earth, Ancients, and the Lost."
Angry Earth creatures are heavily inspired by wildlife animals, but with extensive exposure to Azoth energy, they have become enhanced and altered creatures, ready to fight against the invasion of corruption and outside settlers alike. Hwang and the team focused on how Azoth has altered their original forms, though their true selves remain.
The ancients are a mystery lost to time that has left Skeleton warriors wearing ancient armour and weapons guarding many of their ruins and temples. "For the ancient creatures, we took inspiration from some of earth's oldest cultures, ancient Mayan, Aztec, and even Egyptian culture and their abundance of artefacts," adds Hwang.
The Corrupted are the immortal and twisted servants of an ancient and unknowable force of madness and destruction. They are affected by an evil force that mutates and twists their looks. With this in mind, the art team were able to create some of the most horrific looking creatures for this faction.
The Lost faction are soulless, immortal, undead beings, caught between life and death, in an endless cycle of pain and torment. "For the Lost, our main goal was to portray how they died. Thinking about narrative, storytelling was a big part of the development of each creature concept," says Hwang.
Colour is carefully selected and used throughout New World since the colour can imply many different aspects of the game and its gameplay. "Red mostly signifies corruption, so if a player sees any villager NPCs with red wrappings and red emissive around them, it immediately informs them that they are Corrupted faction enemies," describes Hwang. "If you see blue emissive around creatures, it usually means they are the Lost faction enemies. In general, the readability and variety of the world are very important to us. We want the important elements to stand out and for players to feel like each place they visit feels unique and special."
For more on colour, see our colour theory explainer.
Crafting a culture
When building a world like Aeternum, making cultures, tech, and influences mix in believable ways is no easy task, but the team at Amazon Games have worked hard to make it happen in New World. When they start developing the look of an area or culture, the art team do extensive research and have their work reviewed by different groups of people. They also talk with subject matter experts within and outside the team to make sure they are being true to the core of what makes a culture special. "One example would be Ebonscale Reach. It is inspired by ancient Chinese culture. The ruins of a Chinese dynasty that has built up a settlement in lush wetlands, with majestic waterfalls, and towering cliffs," says Hwang.
"We are inspired by traditional palaces and temples and worked to be true to their culture and architectural style, and how they might reconstruct it with the resources they had on Aeternum. You will see the effects of azoth and corruption here too; how the people here have had to adapt to their environment and evolve in their architecture and gear."
Developing a unique look
One of the things that Bradbury finds particularly exciting about working on New World is the huge breadth of themes and visual ideas that the art team have to pull from. Because Aeternum is a fictional place where many different people have come to the island, the team draw a lot of inspiration from cultures throughout history. It's also a supernatural island full of horror and majestic wonder, which pulls a lot of inspiration from folktales and legends around the world.
"There are so many different visual themes and ideas that our challenge is more picking which ones to focus on first and what to save for later," says Bradbury. "We're pretty excited for where we go next, and there are so many unique and interesting people and ideas we want to bring to the game in the future. Because of our supernatural setting, we try to inject a lot of our own look and feel into the world as well. Trying to convey the cataclysmic effects of azoth and corruption on the world and its inhabitants has been a challenge but also a lot of fun for our art team."