We haven't been following The Banner Saga's development too closely since its successful Kickstarter fundraising drive, but I think it's important to highlight that in their latest art blog they show a new in-game screenshot showcasing the tutorial area, and the stages it went through in its development.
Here's a snippet from the write-up:
Once the rough is complete I show the other guys at Stoic and we do a feedback pass, change some lighting and basically just agree on a direction before I take the time to finish it. The next step is to break out all the assets I sketched in and paint them tightly. Nothing in The Banner Saga is painted flat, it’s all bits and pieces so that we can move them against each other to give the illusion of movement (sometimes we jokingly call the game The Parallax Saga). We also get a lot of mileage out of the assets by recombining them in different positions to build new areas and environments. I have huge Photoshop files that I need to keep open on my screen to drag the completed art pieces over from the main asset file into the new compiled image I’m working on. One file may have as many as 160 layers of different objects and I sometimes need to have 3 files open at a time. Every screen is designed at 2731x1536 pixels to support a widescreen retina display format...rather large textures for a game. I use a 3.4ghz iMac with 32gigs of ram to move it all and sometimes it struggles to keep up.
Once all the bits and pieces are pulled over it doesn’t quite yet work as an art piece. Often times when game art is built in this way it can come across as mechanical and lacking any emotion. It still doesn’t look like a living breathing real place that someone would build or live in and this is where the final touches are needed, little things that give it a subtle sense of place, like the City of Strand emblem on the pillar. Since we control which layers are actually parallaxing (moving against each other) we can bake in lighting and shadows and basically whatever else is possible in Photoshop. Our engine doesn’t add lighting to a scene, we have to paint it all by hand...waahhhh....wa-wait what? That’s awesome! We can make our game look exactly how we want, there are no restrictions on the mood of The Banner Saga. We’ll soon be applying tech that automatically breaks up and re-compiles large, full screen images like this to account for technical limitations on low-end computers and tablets.
There’s a real compelling story regarding this combat environment, but that’s an update for a different day, suffice to say the whole story is taken into account when designing it. I can say that the bear has no story, it just seemed like he needed to be in the scene. While drawing him though I started wondering if the Governor has been wrestling him since he was a little boy and still does so from time to time to amuse his guests. People like to throw him scraps of meat from their tables. What’s his name?