Based in France, Magic Design Studios released their first 2D platformer game, Unruly Heroes on multiple platforms. The game’s website describes Unruly Heroes as having “lushly illustrated environments and [a] hand-drawn art style.” The game’s story “updates [the] classic tale [of Journey to the West] into an epic adventure that is more colorful, humorous and lighthearted than the original.”

Concept and visual development artist Alexandre Diboine was part of the art team that helped make Unruly Heroes (he also worked on Revolting Rhymes, an Oscar nominee for Best Animated Short Film).

While exhibiting at LightBox Expo in California, Diboine discussed his work on the latest game adaptation of Journey to the West.

Unruly Heroes
The team behind Magic Design Studios includes former Ubisoft members that have worked on Valiant Hearts, Rayman, Assassin’s Creed, Raving Rabbids, and Splinter Cell.

Sketching Comedy

“I really like my pigs,” Diboine said when sharing his favorite character designs for Unruly Heroes. “Also like the lava golems, those were fun to do.”

Diboine was able to contribute to the game without having to work from the studio’s France-based office. 

“It was all done remotely,” Diboine said when describing how he telecommuted on Unruly Heroes. Magic Design would send him a pitch along with a couple of reference pictures. It was then his job to make it funny.

Unruly Heroes 2 Alexandre Diboine
Unruly Heroes concept art by Alexandre Diboine.

So, how exactly does one make characters “funny?” 

Diboine shared that he was used to drawing chibi-style characters. (The cast of Unruly Heroes turn into chibi versions of themselves at some point during the game.) He added that he also focused on manipulating physical proportions for humor.

Elaborating on the specifics of the art he made for Unruly Heroes, Diboine said that he would do line art and colors. Next, someone else would paint over his work “to integrate it into the game.” He added that he made a “few props” and created “mostly characters.”

“Did a couple of bosses as well,” Diboine said.

Unruly Heroes 3 Alexandre Diboine
Diboine’s concept art of lava creatures for Unruly Heroes.

Iterating on the Monkey King

Prior to working on Unruly Heroes, Diboine admitted he wasn’t overly familiar with the source material from Journey to the West.

“I heard of it before,” Diboine said. “[But] I wasn’t very familiar with Chinese clothing, so I researched that.”

Fortunately, Magic Design’s CEO and Creative Director, Lu Yang, was intimately familiar with the original story.  

“Creating a game based on the novel, Journey to the West, has actually been my dream since I entered this profession,” Yang said in an interview with China Daily. “Everyone in China knows the story, but in European countries or the US, few people know about Journey to the West. I think such an intriguing story should be introduced to more people.”

Unruly Heroes 4 Alexandre Diboine
Diboine’s Unruly Heroes concept art exploring different chibi designs of the Monkey King.

Regarding other interpretations of Journey to the West, Diboine said that he tried not to draw too much from other reimaginings. He attempted to use more real-world references instead.

“It’s eating reference every day, as much as possible,” Diboine said in a 2018 interview with illustrator and LightBox co-founder Bobby Chiu.

But there was one exception when it came to Unruly Heroes.

“I had a whole Akira Toriyama mood board,” Diboine said. “Toriyama is my favorite illustrator, so that was a fine mood board to have.”

It’s a perfectly appropriate choice since Toriyama’s popular Dragon Ball series also drew inspiration from the classic Chinese tale.

“It was a fun project,” Diboine says of his time with Unruly Heroes, while surrounded by fellow artists at LightBox.

Unruly Heroes 5 Alexandre Diboine
More of Diboine’s chibi designs of the Monkey King for Unruly Heroes.
Alyssa Wejebe
Alyssa Wejebe writes about games, reads about games, and plays them too. RPG, hack-and-slash, and fighting games are some of her favorite genres. She loves nonhuman characters. One of her earliest gaming memories center around battling her grandmother and younger brothers in “Super Bomberman 2” on the SNES.
Alyssa Wejebe

@AlyssaWejebe

Freelance writer/editor focusing on arts and entertainment. Bylines at @Cliqist, @NewNormative, @TechRaptr, @ArtStationHQ, @GoombaSt0mp.
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