Drawing Handdrawn Backgrounds Tutorial by Felix ‘GarageGothic’ Drott

After seeing screenshots from my game-in-progress, Shadowplay, Vel asked me to do a tutorial on Broken Sword style backgrounds. I kindly replied that I didn’t do Broken Sword style backgrounds, but if he wanted me to, I could write a tutorial on my own style. Looking at the result however, I do see certain similarities, but I won’t claim to emulate that or any other game. I’m merely trying to describe the way I work, hoping that it may inspire others to explore other styles than those established by LucasArts and Sierra.

You’ll need a scanner, a paint program which uses layers (the tutorial is written for Adobe Photoshop), a set of artist’s pencils, and preferably some good quality paper. You won’t really be able to tell the difference once it’s on the computer, but while working with it, a heavy stock will prevent the paper from creasing or tearing when erasing, and you’ll do a lot of that while drawing a detailed background. For quicker sketches such as dialog pictures you can use ordinary printer paper.

First you draw your background in pencil

I’m aware that this is a bit like that old Steve Martin joke where he says “I know how you can make a million dollars, tax free!” He looks out over the audience, and then says, really fast: “Okay, firstyougetamilliondollars. Then…”. But it isn’t really all that difficult. It doesn’t have to be naturalistic. What’s important is to find your own style, and stick to it throughout the game.

Make sure the composition is interesting. Distinct fore- middle and backgrounds create depth. Unusual angles can help the atmosphere – a low angle makes a castle seem more imposing, a high angle makes a Kafkaesque player character feel small and insignificant. Generally, you shouldn’t use angles over 30 degrees unless you take the perspective into consideration when drawing you character art. Always keep your exits visible and create focal points around elements important to the story or gameplay by using lines and areas of blank spaces to guide the player’s eye.

When drawing, there are a few technical rules of thumb:

  • Use thicker lines for the foreground objects than the background.
  • The background should have less detail than the foreground.
  • Don’t do too much shading, save it till the coloring. What you should do however is add texture to surfaces (e.g. add grain and knots to the boards of a wooden building). Just don’t overdo it.

The example background

I’ve chosen a real world location, the Powell Library at UCLA, one of many Los Angeles landmarks appearing in Shadowplay. Showing the building as well as the square in front of it was a bit of a challenge in the narrow aspect ratio I’m using, and working from reference photos made the building more detailed and cluttered than if I’d designed it from scratch. Still, I found it important to stick to reality. And while it’s not the best of drawings – the less said about the perspective, the better – it’ll fit our purposes.


The original drawing scanned.

The columns in the foreground frame the main subject. This is a classic LucasArts approach, silhouetting objects at the edges of the screen, although often closer to the “camera” than here. I’m drawing the building just off-center to create a bit of tension. For the game, I’m going to add some students walking and bicycling past, which explains the rather dull straight-on angle.

Adding some color

Scan the drawing as a grayscale image at 300dpi, not more, it would be a waste of resolution and only slow down your CPU. Make your drawing the topmost layer and set its blending mode to “Multiply” with 100% opacity. No matter what you do, this should stay on top. If the drawing has become a bit smudged and the white areas aren’t exactly white anymore, you can adjust the contrast. Don’t set it too high though, or you’ll lose detail.

Create a new layer underneath it with “Normal” blending. This is where you’ll be working. Use the “Polygonal Lasso” tool to select an area to color, and fill it with the Paint Bucket or Gradient tools. I recommend gradients even when working with uniformly colored areas. Just a slight variation in tone adds texture and depth to the image. And for shaded areas like the columns in my drawing, gradients are a godsend.

The main rule for coloring is to keep it simple and fill as large areas as possible with a single color or gradient. BUT, whenever two surfaces of the same material meet at an angle (the octagonal tower is an example of this), or appear next to each other but in different planes (this is the case with the two wings of the library), they MUST be of slightly different shades. With angles, it’s a matter of defining the light sources of the room and shading accordingly. Consistency is vital here, and you certainly shouldn’t follow my flawed example. With depth planes, the surface furthest away should be a bit darker than the one in front (and if very far away, bluer in tone due to the atmosphere).

Why we love layers

Now, work your way through the drawing, coloring all major areas. Don’t worry about details yet. Use separate layers for each element. In my example, I had layers for the foreground, the sky, the building, the trees, and the ground. By now there should be very little white paper showing through. It’s beginning to look like a real background, but something is wrong. It seems flat for some reason, like a kid’s drawing.


After basic coloring

Time has come for two special layers, which really add life: Detail and effect.

The detail layer is where you color and enhance the details (duh!) of your drawing, possibly adding things which weren’t in your original. If you’re tempted to draw something with the paintbrush or airbrush tool, by all means do so. Personally I prefer using fill tools while in zoom mode. The trees caused me much trouble until I stopped trying to paint the foliage and began seeing them as larger chunks of solid color instead. It’s also in this layer (or rather, in a separate “building detail” layer) that I darken the windows and add the door to the library.


Details added. Note that the trees and columns have been redone as well.

There are multiple kinds of effect layers. Most important is the shadow layer. I recommend using multiple of these for different image elements. This is a transparent layer consisting of black (or if you’re using gradients, grayscale) shapes which emulate shadows, and it goes just under the pencil layer. In my example I used an opacity of 32% (in “Normal” blend mode) for my shadows layer, but you could go as far as 50 or 60%. You can also use shadow layers to darken areas which are too bright after coloring. I did this with the library walls instead of re-coloring them.

Other sorts of effect layers are the highlight layer, which works like the shadow layer, except you’re using white instead of black (I used this on the backlit column edges), and the atmosphere layer (not used in this background), which is used for fog or dust filtering and obscuring parts of the scenery.

The result

Finally, save your image, with all the layers – don’t overwrite this file whatever you do. Open a copy, flatten it and crop the image to proper dimensions, and resize it for your game resolution. You might have some minor pixel editing left to do, covering white areas shining through or removing a few misplaced pencil strokes. Trust me, it’s must easier hiding flaws now than it would have been in high resolution.


The finished background



Finished background without the pencil layer. It really does make a difference.

With all the hard work done, you can always return to your layered image. You can edit shadows, darken elements, adjust the contrast, and change the color balance of separate objects – without lassoing them out first. As a quick experiment, I made a night version of my background. It’s far from perfect, those streetlights are hideous and the trees should be edited for the new light, but it only took minutes. Soon I’ll go back and do a rainy day version of the background as well.


Now it’s dark

Good luck experimenting. I’d like to see somebody taking this “Multiply”-layer technique further. Maybe using ink drawings instead of pencil? Only when we go beyond the established styles of commercial adventures, in content as well as presentation, we are truly independent game designers.

– GarageGothic


7 dirty ways to lengthen your game without losing the player: a “Don’t do this at home” article

Introduction. Almost every time I play an amateur adventure game and finish it, I say “Was that it?” It is a common question, since most of the amateur adventure games last less than 5 hours. Here, I give you seven dirty ways to lengthen your game without losing the player.

Number one. Make the text unskippable. If you want to get really dirty, set the text speed to slow. Even slower. Anyway, your game should be worth playing if you do this.

Number two. Make the character move as a slug. As a wounded slug (a.k.a. Gilbert Goodmate). In that case, it would be nice to make double-click exits possible, but have a lot of scrolling rooms. Anyway, if you set the character’s speed to too slow, the player may get pissed off and quit the game.

Number three. Make a crappy GUI with 1001 menus or commands. Light version: 5 days a stranger, where you had to right click and select the command. Full version: Curse of enchantia or the scroll, where the GUI had more than 15 actions. For Curse of Enchantia, they were more than 30. Now this will drastically lengthen your game. Use with care.

Number four. Make a timed puzzle. But not your run-off-the-mill timed puzzle. The kind of timed puzzle that involves fooling around for 10-40 minutes until the thing the player needs appears(For example, after a player talks to someone, he tells him to get a hot dog. But only after 20 minutes of fooling around, the player finds a hot dog somewhere). Dirty, eh?

Number five. Make an illogical puzzle. I know that these have been overused, but it is a classic. If only one or so, the player will not get much frustrated solving them (…right?). The amount of illogical puzzles you can add in your game without losing the player depends on the quality of the other components.

Number six.  A really dirty one: make cool background music. This will get the player to just stand in one place without doing anything just to listen to the music. They certainly didn’t overuse these!

Number seven. Do not do a map of the region or something. Let the player travel through the beautiful lands of your game!

Conclusion. Use all of the above with care. If you just put all of them in a game, the player will almost certainly quit it after the fifth minute of gameplay, and instead of lengthening the gameplay, you will drastically shorten it. I hope I helped you with designing your game!

5 Days a Stranger Review

Introduction. “Five days a stranger” is Yathzee’s latest release, and by all means, his best. I know that most of you may be rather reserved to him, but it would be very unfair, considering the great game he just released.

            Graphics. The backgrounds are well-drawn without being something incredible. The creator has put much effort into making them, which is obvious, considering how much detail they have. On the whole, the backgrounds are one of the best low-res ones I have seen in a while. The character art and animation however are much better. The amount of animation during the game is immense, and the character art is great. I think the graphics of “5 Days a Stranger” are the best part of it.

            Sound. Unlike the graphics, the sound disappoints. There are almost none sound effects in the game; the music tracks are few and far between. If the sound had been better, this might have been the most atmospheric game in a while.

            Plot. You play Trilby, a gentleman burglar, who is about to get into his next house to lift what he can from it. It is old and abandoned; something about it just seems not right. When he gets into the house and founds nothing, he, naturally, wants to get out of it. But the house will not let him. Soon he finds that he isn’t the only one stuck in it… The plot of the game is rather good, but later on with the game is just unrealistic. In my humble opinion, Yathzee should not have rushed the last one or two days of the game.


            Puzzles. Good, but nothing special. They are not too hard, and will not be a problem for most adventurers. The puzzles are also logical, which is the most important thing.

            Miscellaneous. The game is completely bug-free, which is a very good thing. The only poor thing in the misc. stuff is the GUI. Every time you want to change your action, you have to press the right button and then select the action, which is really annoying. However, in the new versions of the game, this is fixed.

            Conclusion. This is one game worth playing. Despite the few drawbacks it has (like sound, GUI), it is a really enjoyable title, which can take away a few hours of your free time.

Overall score: 75%

Conspiracy of Songo Review

Introduction. Seeing most people holding their almost ready games to themselves until late December to get an AGS award, I had almost lost hope to play a good game in the September-November period. Until Conspiracy of Songo was released.  This is a game is worth playing. Let’s now review its components in an ascending-quality order.

            Graphics. I am sorry to say that, but the graphics are mostly amateurish. The backgrounds often have perspective problems, and, moreover, they look as if they are drawn with a mouse with much dust in it. The animations, however, are better. While there are some awkward ones as the walking animation (Oh, how I wish that was a better one) or the talking animations, there are also some unique ones like Wally Wiser beating his head to the bar. On the scales, I’d say that the author hasn’t got much artistic talent, but has put much effort in them so that they do not look very amateurish.

            Music and sound. The music and sound are overall good, but nothing memorable. The background music is MIDI, with some nice tunes and some bad ones. The sound effects are nothing too special.

            Plot. You play Shila Rider, a young woman, who is on a cruise with her boyfriend. However, their boat makes a detour, and they are left on a weird island, and her boyfriend immediately arrested for stealing Songo, the town’s idol. The plot is overall admirable, though it has a hole or two.


            Puzzles. Excellent. None too hard, none too easy, none illogical. They are also various, and I assure you that you will not get bored. My favourite one is the one where you are given a general knowledge test. I won’t spoil the solution to this puzzle, but it is the best one I’ve seen for a while.

            Miscellaneous. The best part of the game is the scripting. The interface is simple and stylish; every time a new location appears, a sound effect plays; the location flashes. The same goes to phone numbers, dialogue scripting and menus.  The game is quite lengthy – the average adventurer will need about 5 hours to finish it. So do not hesitate, download this great game now!

Overall score: 80%

Buccaneer II Preview

The winner of August MAGS, Buccaneer, is now awaiting its sequel. Looking at the screenshots Hobbes has made, it will be one of the games that will fight for best graphics for 2004. But the thing that made Buccaneer a MAGS classic is most certainly the plot… Why don’t we hear Hobbes himself instead?


Tell us a bit more about yourself – what you do for a living, what you like etc.

Well, I’m 21 year old guy. I finished my teacher’s education last summer, so for the past six weeks, I’ve been a member of the working class. No more classes for me to attend but the kids I teach. As this is a full-time job, it took some getting used to when I began. However, I’m enjoying it immensely, teaching all those 9-year olds what’s good (or bad) for them. 🙂

As far as my hobbies go, I love to write, play the piano, write poetry or sing. I hang out regularly with my friends; go to the movies, head on downtown, that kind of thing. And for all those people who’ve been wondering out there, yup, I’m still single. 😉
Which was the first adventure game and AGS game you played and which are your favorites?
Oooooh let me see. The first adventure game I played must’ve been Zak McCracken back on my brother’s Commodore 64. I was probably around 7 years old. I didn’t know a word of English (picked it up remarkably quick thanks to that game, though). Nevertheless, it fascinated me that you could play a game like this. Compared to the joystick-destructing Summer Games, this was a novelty.

The first AGS game I ever played was Pleurghburgh. Liked the style, although it took some getting used to, being the spoilt person I was then with all those classic commercial adventures. My favourite games include Gabriel Knight, Police Quest, Fate of Atlantis, DoTT, Monkey Island, Sam ‘n Max and Beneath a Steel Sky.


Did you expect such positive feedback on Buccaneer?

Never. I enjoyed making the game as a little private something and of course for the MAGS competition. But mostly it was a test to see if I could actually finish an AGS project. It was also one of the few projects I ever did which flowed naturally. The dialogs popped into my head, and soon the storyline revolved itself. There was no forward planning. As such, the game was as much a surprise for me, as it was for other people. I was pleased to see they were equally charmed by the characters as I was. (And still am!)
What will the sequel be like? (How long will the gameplay be, how will the story evolve etc.)

For one thing, it will be a lot longer. I can’t say how much gameplay we’re looking at yet, since I’m continually tweaking the plot and the locations. At the moment I’m exploring the possibility for Richard to travel to another country, to broaden the scope a bit. Whether or not that makes it into the final game is debatable yet.

The story will continue roughly where the first one stopped. A few months have gone by, and Richard is facing a dangerous business rival. This rival seems hell-bent on getting Richard out of business. And, once things take a truly dangerous turn, Richard discovers things about himself that he’d rather not remember… and, of course there’s Margareth. The relationship between her and Richard was left hanging by the end of Buccaneer, so it wouldn’t be fair to simply ignore it. I’ve got quite a few surprises in store for their relationship and I’m interested to see how it all plays out.
Why so much drama in the first one?

Why not? Hah, no I realise that’s not really an answer. As I already mentioned, I didn’t plan too much for Buccaneer. Most of it was done in a manner of “what felt right at the moment”. And I’m a big sucker for drama. Be it in books or movies… any medium. I’m a big admirer of people who manage to pull it off. I’ve read writers who attempted drama and failed miserably. And then there’s the occasional writer who can truly move me to tears. Such deep bonding with a character is rare, and I treasure it immensely. Drama is, for me, one of the most driving forces to attempt in entertainment.


Not that I presume to reach such a high level with Buccaneer, of course. I would hardly call Buccaneer a good work of fiction. As a game it did well, judging by the reactions, but if I imagined it as a book, it wouldn’t work.
Do you think that drama is inevitable for adventure games with deep plot?

I think that depends on what defines a “deep plot”. I think Day of the Tentacle has one of the most unique plots in gaming history. However, there’s hardly any drama. Not counting the scene where Laverne says goodbye to Dead Cousin Ted (or was it Fred? ;)), of course. However, strangely enough, when I think about a “deep plot”, I don’t think of DoTT. I think of Gabriel Knight. Those games were dark, mysterious, dramatic, and very, very satisfying. A deep plot to me is a very serious story that tries to tell a surprising tale. So in reaching the emotions of the player, I think drama is indeed a necessary element to bring your point across as a writer. However, I also think it’s one of the hardest things to do right, for fear of “overdoing” it.
Do you think that adventure games faded away of the market because of the lack of interest in plot in the gamers?

I’m not too sure players lost their interest in plots. For years the PC game scene was dominated by adventure games. This began to change with the release of Wolfenstein 3D. Sure, there was this EGA variety which ran on a 286 made by ID software as well, but Wolf3D was the hot topic at school. For a time 3D and adventure co-existed but clearly, the majority of people had seen enough adventure back then. 3D action games dominated the market; and still dominate them to this day. But, the interesting thing is that most action-oriented game are slowly discovering the need of a plot, of characterisation, again. We have Warcraft III which has these Avatars, 3D games which begin to feature cut-scenes again, and plots. Sure, those stories wouldn’t hold against a good novel, but slowly the gaming industry is rediscovering what it left behind almost ten years ago. Stories. Good plotting. So, I think that the interest never really left, it was only satiated for a time. And as stories become more and more important again, people will automatically rediscover the adventure game.


 When can I get my hands on Buccaneer II? Yarrrrr!

Hahaha, good question. Right now I’ll have to “Yarrrrr” you back to where you came from. I’m hard at work on the graphical aspects, the plotting, the puzzles, and all that. Foz is busy composing some MIDI‘s, and I discuss these with him. As most of the graphical work and the coding has yet to be done, I’ll have to say: 2004. I’m hoping it’ll be released early in the spring, maybe sooner, but I can’t be too definite on that yet.

Do you have plans for the future projects of Unosar entertainment?

Right now: No. Handling Buccaneer II is enough work as it is. However, I was kinda busy making “Depths of Clearbay” before popular demand made me do a 180 and start working on Buccaneer II. So, once B2 is finished, I’ll probably start work on DoC in earnest. It’s going to be something completely different, a modern crime-based game set in a completely fictional city.

 And also, there’s The Strange Day. I’m thinking that I’ll probably finish that one off after that… in 320 x 200, with a DoTT like interface. However, I’ve discovered humorous stories aren’t really my strong point.


Thanks for your time!

You’re welcome! Thanks for having me in the magazine… keep up the great work!


Jaap Marsman a.k.a. “Hobbes”

The Cloak Preview

The Greek AGS Community (GAC) has made many great games. One of their next releases is “The cloak”, a fantasy adventure with an old wizard as the main character. And since not much more is known for that project, I leave you with the pleasure of reading the interview with GAC (who are laconic as…as… Greeks)  and looking at the brilliant screenshots.


Ez: Thank you for accepting the invitation. Please, tell us a bit more about yourselves – what you like, what you do for a living etc.

Danny: Hello. Thank you for your invitation! I ‘m a 3d artist but I work as a video editor in a Greek TV channel.

Spyros: I like women, football and music. I am a PC technician/Web designer/programmer

Ez: Which adventure games are your favorite (both commercial and freeware)?

Danny: I loved Grim Fandango, all 3 Indiana Jones, Loom …there are too many to say,…but mostly Lucas old games!!

Spyros: Monkey Island 1-3, Indy

Ez: Why do you think they do not sell as well as FPS or RTS?

Danny: I haven’t thought about it…but i think that the players want more action (and less thinking!)

Spyros: Because they require thinking


Ez: Do you think they may come back to the main scene?

Danny: Maybe…but in a different form….

Spyros: Bah, No

Ez: What do you think of the idea of an AGS game being sold as a commercial title (not like “fatman adventures”, but like “runaway”, MI4…)? Is it possible?

Danny: Yes, why not! If a game made with AGS is good enough….

Spyros: Yes

Ez: How was GAC formed and who formed it?

Spyros: It was formed by me, the butcher and Helm. Then Danny joined.

Ez: What does it take from a Greek to be a GAC member?

Spyros: You must pass the 100 trials or have a beautiful sister.

How long does it take you to make a game like Norman Cooks or SOL and how many hours do you work per week?

Danny: Norman Cooks took about 3 months, 6-10 hours per day.

Spyros: 3-4 months if working 2-3 hours a day


Ez: What is your motivation in making an adventure game?

Danny: I always wanted to be able to make an adventure game ever since I played my very first one (Indy and the last crusade, in 1987 on an ATARI ST1040.)

Now that I’m able to do so, well, for fun!

Spyros: Having fun

Ez: How do you feel about Hugo’s author closing your remake?

Spyros: I don’t blame him mine version was better :p

Ez: What is “Inferno: the tale of a rotten bustard’s status and when can we expect a final release?

Spyros: The status is “Looking for butcher”. Don’t expect it in the next few light years


Ez: How far is “The cloak” from a demo/final release?

Danny: The demo should have been ready by now, but I had(and still have) some problems with software that I’m using…..:(

I hope that I will fix it soon!!!!

Ez: What will the plot be like?

Danny: you will find out as soon as the demo will be out.

Ez: Will it feature a speech and/or a music pack?

Danny: Music packs yes! (I think!)As for speech …probably not!

Spyros: A music pack only I think.

Ez: Will you produce a speech/music pack for your older games?

Danny: No! (Sorry)

Spyros: I have made a music pack for Book of Spells. I will release it along with the BOS complete game (the four parts merged). Now it’s in the state of beta testing.


Ez: How the hell do you make those brilliant graphics?

Danny: My graphics are good, not brilliant! I’m far from brilliant. Igor’s are brilliant.

To answer your question, I’d say that it’s all about patience, hard work, and a tiny bit of talent (optional!!!) 🙂

Ez: Will there be something special about The Cloak’s interface?

Danny: no 🙂

Spyros: No

When will it be released and how long will its playing time be?

Danny: It’s too early to talk about release yet….but i hope somewhere in 2004.It will be a medium to long game.

What are GAC’s plans for the future?

Danny: see below…

Spyros: To finish our current projects 🙂

Will there be new members of GAC in the near future?

Spyros: If someone has a beautiful sister let me know

Danny: I hope so…

Thanks for your time.

Danny: Thank you…

Spyros: Thanks too.