From the beginning I knew how Zirkel would *not* look like: cartoonish or realistic. I knew from the start that I would use an iconic style and wanted to keep it simple but also show some depth and create an interesting atmosphere.
After I decided to introduce one new game element in every chapter I sought for themes which would relate to those game elements. For now, there are seven chapters: „Begin“, „Dusk“, „Dive“, „Energy“, „Cyclone“, „Process“, „Orientation“.
„Dive“ introduces slow flames. Things under water move slow. As soon as I thought of this theme it was easy to come up with a graphic representation which in this case reminds of water: dark bluish green colors, with particles which drift upwards. The last, most challenging chapter has quite tricky puzzles which combine alle game mechanics and rules. They can seem confusing at first. So I named the chapter „Orientation“ and put a blurry maze in the background. These themes help me to style the main components of the ingame visuals: the backgrounds and the rings.
The backgrounds of the levels are composed of only a few elements. Each background has a dark base color and a partial transparent background image. On top of that (but behind the rings) I randomly sprinkle some stars and then add one or more effect layers. These are basically particles systems but with very slow motion and subtle appearance, like the clouds in the chapter „Dusk“:
The chapter themes are also represented through different icons. These icons are tinted in the same color as the rings in the puzzles are. Because they are also buttons to select the puzzles they have some space in the center to display the number of the puzzle.
One of the most interesting decisions in my opinion are the flames. Because they were not always flames. In the prototype phase, when these elements where simply called „orbiters“, they looked like this:
The mechanics were the same, but it appeared much more abstract than now. I wanted something more „natural“ or organic. Then one evening when I saw a fire show on TV, it was instantly clear that I would use flames. They are simply particle systems with different colors and behaviors depending on the speed of the flame element (there are three types). Each flame type also has a different explosion effect when they flame touches another one.
There are a lot of things that I left out off Zirkel. Menus where cascaded until some point, and there was much more text and more decoration. This can happen quickly when one fiddles around in their favorite graphic program. But after a while, it can be very purifying to step back and think about what the most important parts of the experience are and what is just clutter (in this case, especially in a mobile context).
My hope for the visual style of Zirkel is that I was successful in combining a clean and simple interface with abstract graphics which still have some depths and atmosphere.
Maybe you want to judge by yourself – Zirkel is coming out on August 27th!