Matt Rhodes' behind the scenes peek at concepting for Bioware starts with a fantastic description of his job: 'The role of a Concept Artist is the role of an explorer, tasked with charting a world without sunlight'. And now he's revealed a little of that light, and what went into designing Dragon Age and Mass Effect.
(Top pic: Unused concept art for the Yahg Shadow Broker in Mass Effect 2's Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC)
There's a lot of really interesting art in his blog post, covering many of the design decisions over the course of the Mass Effect Trilogy and specifically Dragon Age II - some decisions that went into the games, changed or unchanged, and even some radical ones that were discarded all together, like this insane Reaper-Shepard:
This was a very, very early idea for Shepard. In this image he has been forced to turn to Reaper technology to accomplish his goals (*cough* Saren *cough*) and he’s being confronted by the new human Specter, Ashley.
Potential Cerberus Trooper Designs:
When designing the Cerberus troops, there were a lot of requests for thickness. I tend to go thin by default (a handicap I have to constantly work to counteract). What I wanted to maintain was a slight “goofiness” to their appearance. I think that if you try to design something to be cool, it will fail. The best designs (especially designs for characters that are meant to be scary or intimidating) are ones that maintain a percentage of goofiness. Real world designs typically have this element because engineers and designers are concerned with function first. This tends to create unintentionally funny forms.
Perhaps the most exciting artwork from the Mass Effect stuff are Rhodes' designs for Tali's unmasked face, something not seen until Mass Effect 3. There were many neat ideas, some more human, some alien, and honestly, they make the controversial choice of the lightly-photoshopped image that did end up the game look weak in comparison:
The debate about whether or not to reveal Tali’s face was another one that lasted a long time. Versions of her were being worked on fairly often. These were three that I thought worked in their own way. Personally, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to push players to the edge. Tali was like a pen pal, or a friend you’ve only ever known online. Depending on how attached to her a player was, how well could they handle her appearance challenging their expectations? If she looked a little too alien, just a little too repellant, would they still feel the same way about her? Or did her personality and your history together trump appearances? It’s an interesting area to explore and I hope we can find other ways to ask that question.
Onto Dragon Age II now, with initial sketches of the party based on the original outlines (Left to Right: Fenris, Merrill, Bethany, Varric, Anders, Carver, Isabela, Aveline):
And more updated designs closer to the in-game looks, showing the passage of time for the team, as well as Tallis, Felicia Day's character from the Mark of the Assassin DLC:
Fenris was apparently one of the hardest designs for the DAII team to get down, according to Rhodes:
Fenris, Fenris, Fenris….The widowmaker. These barely scratch the surface of how many attempts we made at Fenris. Somehow he was just impossible to capture. He was like a game of musical chairs. His design kept changing until the music stopped and the version we had was the version we had to live with. I still would love to redesign him, but like him or not, Fenris is now Fenris.
And then there was one of many of DAII's controversial changes, the redesign of the Darkspawn horde:
You only every know how to design your game when it’s done. That’s just the reality. We’re fortunate on Dragon Age to have the freedom to correct or finesse designs according to what we’ve learned in the past. At the end of the day, Concept Art is about telling the story of the game and we felt that the original design of the Darkspawn wasn’t doing the story justice.
There is a lot more artwork from Rhodes at his blog, so if you're interested, check it out at the link below - bear in mind, some of it covers end-game stuff for Mass Effect 3, so if somehow you're interested in playing it and haven't got round to it, you have been warned.