Understanding Dota 2
So after my attempt at understanding Dota 2’s style through practice, I gave myself time to rest and instead sought to understand it through research. I found the Art Guide released by Valve for public viewing and read through it in the hopes that it would enlighten me to the finer aspects of Dota’s designs. Here is what I found to be of particular importance and interest. (Apart from the colour mixing sheet, all images are pulled directly from the document without alteration).
Use of Value
Dota makes clever use of values to ensure the important parts of their characters draw the player’s attention. Given that it is a top down game, this means they emphasise focus to be on the upper areas of characters, but I feel that this is good practice for an character design as the lower part of a character generally has little need for interest.
As you can see they create a gradient on the character, with darker shades focusing towards the feet and lighter shades towards the head and shoulders. This draws our eye up to the head/torso of the character.
Use of Detail
Another important design point for video game characters which Dota highlights is use of detail. Too much detail on a character will just become distracting noise (especially in game) whereas too little detail renders a character bland and boring. Dota balances this by placing large areas of minor details alongside the areas containing a lot. Again values come into this as creating details using values close to that of the surface they are on mean that they can be moderately complex whilst remaining undistracting.
Another point is that the balance of complex to simple is executed in the same way as the balance in values. Areas of complex detail often focus on the upper areas of the character, whilst the lower areas are left looking plainer. This is even implemented in character’s items.
Use of Colour
The final important aspect to Dota Design is colour schemes. Dota uses techniques similar to Ashley Wood, but on a less exaggerated scale, in order to draw player focus towards the top of characters. They use colours with little saturation all over, but especially in the lower parts of the body. Also small areas are given higher levels of saturation to draw the eye while not overwhelming it.
Dota also makes use of a wide variety of colour techniques (as shown below), generally limiting character palettes to a maximum of three colours and then mixing these to create additional colours for the smaller areas. This works to create a unified colour scheme while maintaining areas of contrast.
Below is an example of how the main colours are desaturated and mixed, and how it differs for the spot colours. I have added my own diagrams for further explanation, showing the general curve of these colours in the colour picker.
Dota makes use of a range of techniques (primarily focusing on colour and values) to draw player focus to the upper areas of its characters. Being a top down game this is especially important, however it is good practice for any character design as it is unlikely that designers or players will want to focus on the characters feet.