Features

The Art of “In Extremis”

“I’m tired.
I’m tired of all of this.
So,
I took my spaceship.
and set the course
to the end of the universe”
– In Extremis intro

Video games are by definition, composed of digital art. We explore and interact with worlds, concepts, and mechanics created in a digital environment. Digital Art and Digital Artists are ubiquitous with the media even if the end result is more akin to kitsch action titles, over the top weirdness or even pretentious and artsy walking simulators. (all games linked are personal favorites, by the way)

Art is ever present in any game. From the audio cues to the music, to the color used to paint the background, every decision impacts the overall experience even if said experience hasn’t much to say about the political climate, life as we know it or even attempts to make a commentary about our pitiful existence on this planet. The artistic value of the medium when judged side by side with Theater or Cinema could be easily seen as something that is in its infancy – Or something that by definition, takes art and transforms it into something to be consumed and taken on by the player. The pursuit of interactive media kills any artistic merit or insight that art usually holds. Or so some critics say. Take this 2012 article in the Guardian, as an example:

“The worlds created by electronic games are more like playgrounds where experience is created by the interaction between a player and a program. The player cannot claim to impose a personal vision of life on the game, while the creator of the game has ceded that responsibility. No one “owns” the game, so there is no artist, and therefore no work of art. This is the essential difference between games and art, and it precedes the digital age. Chess is a great game, but even the finest chess player in the world isn’t an artist. She is a chess player. Artistry may have gone into the design of the chess pieces. But the game of chess itself is not art nor does it generate art – it is just a game.”

Of course, this is just what some critics have to say to the idea of video games being by themselves, works of art.
Don’t tell this to Leonardo Ferreira though, a digital artist who made collages, an algorithm that generates automated pixel art pieces (just update his web page to see that one in motion) and many other unusual art pieces for his independent game, In Extremis.

Released on Steam back in 2016, this game wasn’t something created to make a quick buck in just a couple weeks. This was a 3-year process that Leonardo had to go through, putting all his ideas and baring his soul in an interactive experience that is driven by the author. Every weapon created for the game, every boss, every stage, everything existed because they were past concepts that touched and/or left an impression over the author of the game. There was no publisher and for a while, no artist either. Just Leonardo and his strange, bizarre dreams of an artsy shoot’em up.

(In Extremis before Pedro Simoes embarked as an artist into the project full time)

So if we are to understand the logic behind the art chaos that is “In Extremis”, then we need to ask Leonardo himself. Let us delve deep into the In Extremis aesthetic in this Artlords interview:

Artlords: Why did you spend so much time and effort making a shoot’em’up game?

Leonardo: I have always been a long time fan of the genre for two main reasons; the simplicity of the design, that speaks to something very intrinsic to the language of games themselves, and the level of challenge, that allow for a clear notion of your own progress inside that game. It was also the perfect canvas to express several ludic and visual ideas I accumulated over the years of being an enthusiast of games, rather than a developer myself.

The very first enemy you encounter in the game
The very first enemy you encounter in the game

Artlords: Why did you select the authorial approach for this project? Why not target a specific group of consumers/players?

Leonardo: The development of the game was more of a learning experience than a bonafide commercial endeavor, hence why its budget was very limited, and the project mostly self-funded. I also personally believe that consumers being directly targeted by specific types of projects tend to gravitate to ones with higher budgets or appearance of expeditude, while niche consumers tend to be more loyal and adventurous with their purchases. Please tell us about the unusual art you managed to sneak in the game. The visual style is a mish-mash of aesthetics and visual ideas; each stage has a different style, but it is coherent throughout that single stage. Because of that part of the art was made be me, while the larger part was

Because of that part of the art was made be me, while the larger part was commissioned by several different freelancers, that specialize on distinct styles, such as pixel art, digital illustration, vector graphics and pen-and-paper drawings. Also, there are some art that is generated by code, such as some backgrounds and enemies, as well physical collages and simple hand-made animation made exclusively for certain backgrounds and bosses

part_SHIP
The ship on the edge of the universe

Artlords: Please tell us about the unusual art you managed to sneak in the game. The visual style is a mishmash of aesthetics and visual ideas; each stage has a different style, but it is coherent throughout that single stage. Because of that part of the art was made be me, while the larger part was

Leonardo: The visual style is a mishmash of aesthetics and visual ideas; each stage has a different style, but it is coherent throughout that single stage. Because of that part of the art was made be me, while the larger part was commissioned by several different freelancers, that specialize in distinct styles, such as pixel art, digital illustration, vector graphics and pen-and-paper drawings. Also, there is some art that is generated by code, such as some backgrounds and enemies, as well physical collages and simple hand-made animation made exclusively for certain backgrounds and bosses.

Artlords: Many people haven’t played the game, it’s no secret. Yet you have claimed before the game is filled with easter eggs. Care to spoil some of them?

Leonardo: Each stage always begins with a short phrase; there are several of those for each stage, and they make references to books, movies, games and songs that influenced me creatively; the final three-verse haiku that closes the base game is procedurally generated from a slew of possible verses; there is an entire secret stage that demands players to think outside of the box to reach, and only a select few have reached; the entire games have references to mythical structures, such as Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, the Christian Bible, the hermetic Kaballah, the Tarot, and Carl Jung’s psychologic. Also, if you finish the game after unlocking all possible weapons, you are taken to a special epilog in which you will learn the meaning of life. Seriously.

One of the last bosses you will face
One of the last bosses you will face

Artlords: Mind telling us about working with other digital artists? How did you feel about hiring digital artists to improve the art of the game? Was it worth it?

Leonardo: Organizing freelance contract was tiring, but overall worth it; there were over eight artists involved in In Extremis, and some went extremely well, ou not so much. It is important to strike a balance between authoral control, and giving freedom to artist work in what they like best to do, in order to create something of real quality; but it is also important to respect the limitations of your partners, in order not to demand of them more than they can produce. Would you do this again? What have you learned from the experience? Absolutely not, and absolutely yes. It was a harrowing experience that drained most of my already meager santity, tho I don’t think I could have done any other way. Working alone is exhausting, both in psychological terms, but also in the way you can alwys give yourself more work to do, and fall into perfectionism. That said, I am quite proud of what I achieved with this project, and that would not have happened without those sacrifices. The process of development also gave me enough maturity to, if I should start a similar project in the future, be aware of the pitfalls and possible issues that may happen in the future.

Brazilian Water Goddess
Brazilian Water Goddess

Artlords: Would you do this again? What have you learned from the experience? Absolutely not, and absolutely yes. It was a harrowing experience that drained most of my already meager santity, tho I don’t think I could have done any other way. Working alone is exhausting, both in psychological terms, but also in the way you can alwys give yourself more work to do, and fall into perfectionism. That said, I am quite proud of what I achieved with this project, and that would not have happened without those sacrifices. The process of development also gave me enough maturity to, if I should start a similar project in the future, be aware of the pitfalls and possible issues that may happen in the future.

Leonardo: Absolutely not, and absolutely yes. It was a harrowing experience that drained most of my already meager sanity, though I don’t think I could have done any other way. Working alone is exhausting, both in psychological terms, but also in the way you can alwys give yourself more work to do, and fall into perfectionism. That said, I am quite proud of what I achieved with this project, and that would not have happened without those sacrifices. The process of development also gave me enough maturity to, if I should start a similar project in the future, be aware of the pitfalls and possible issues that may happen in the future.

Space Dragon
Space Dragon

**

For those willing to partake on Leonardo’s bizarre visions, check In Extremis here. And for more of the artist that crafted the concept art for the game, check Pedro Simoes portfolio here.

About the Author Arthur De Martino

The google wearing super hero know as "Wasp Eye Lad" has a secret identity: Arthur De Martino, a quiet Brazilian man who loves Digital Art a bit too much.

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