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Case Study: Steambirds Alliance

Spry Fox, 2019

Steambirds Alliance is a cooperative bullet-hell MMO shooter made by Spry Fox. Players take flight in dieselpunk planes in a war against an evil feline empire, gaining increasingly valuable aircraft and weapon options along the way. It’s chaotic, arcadey, co-op fun. 

When I joined the project, though, the fun was being obscured by the chaos. The issue was the visual hierarchy - basically the visual presence of players, enemies, bullets, and background relative to one another - was fairly muddy. Put simply, the important stuff didn't pop. This wasn’t anyone’s fault; the art style of SBA had been changed a number of times before I joined and clarity was lost over those iterations. It was critical to get it back before we pushed further into production, though.

I prepared a document and an assortment of mockups and concept art that suggested cost-effective edits that would improve readability and also increase the ways we could surface the games lore to players. I also suggested ways we could increase player expression through plane customization. The doc was a hit across the team, and we started enacting those changes. 

As we pushed farther into production, I directed a small art team composed of in house Spry Fox employees and additional off site contractors. Over the next year, we pushed on the seemingly endless asset needs of a game that features hundreds of aircraft, dozens of environments, and uncountable bits and bobs that live in the spaces between.

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