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Crescents, Eyes, and the Time of Witches

Game:Bayonetta Release:Dec 09 (JPN) / Jan 10 (NA/EU) Platform:Xbox 360 / PS3 Game Director:Hideki Kamiya

Bayonetta is a game about witches. And guns. Both in about equal measure. Lauded by critics and players alike as being the near-pinnacle of action gaming, Bayonetta comes with a well-respected pedigree in Platinum Games. The last decade has seen Platinum in its varying states(formerly of Clover Studios, formerly of Capcom) make an impact on the gaming world in the form of titles that are vehicles of excellent mechanics and impressive visuals.

Thus, Hideki Kamyia and crew do not disappoint on the art-front with Bayonetta. The game hitches on a centuries-old battle between the “dark” Umbra Witches and the “light” Lumen Sages. As the names imply, the Umbra are associated with (and according to the loose game fiction) draw power from the moon, whereas the Lumen do the same with the sun. This dichotomy is reflected in almost every possible facet of the game artwork, but none more concretely and perhaps obviously as the above icon, called “The Witch’s Mark”. Making appearances throughout the game, the mark is perhaps best described as Bayonetta in a “graphical nutshell”. All of the important information as it pertains to the game from a general design motif to entire plot points is contained inside it.

It is perhaps best then, to start with the player’s first encounter with this symbol, inside the game’s logo itself:

Bayonetta's Logo
Bayonetta’s Logo

It’s interesting to note here how the mark already contains an ‘eye’ in the middle, and the designer has chosen to overlay the “o” in Bayonetta (stylized as a cross or ankh, further pushing the religious undertones) aligned with the emblem’s middle. However with the overlaid “o” shape and its sliver in the middle, we are reminded (or if viewing for the first time, informed) of Bayonetta herself; more to the point are the feline-like movements she makes in her animation and her ability to shape shift into a panther. Looking at the box art for the game itself, the player/viewer is already seeing layers of included information.

When designing the game’s signature weapons, the quartet Scarborough Fair guns that Bayonetta attaches to her hands and feet, weapons designer Muneyuki “Johnny” Kotegawa knew it was important to have a design that incorporated the Witch’s Mark. It is worth nothing that this particular configuration of the weapons never actually appears in the game, thus the inclusion of the mark is not readily perceived by the player.

Scarborough Fair – Bayonetta’s Main Weapons

Not only a tightly packed piece of visual information, the Witch’s Mark is used as a symbol of power when characters invoke their myriad abilities: projected underneath Bayonetta’s feet when her wall-walk ability is active; drawn in the air when shifting between planes of reality; partially used (the outer ring with the runic language) as a target-lock icon. The following screenshots show how this repetition and interrelation of circles and crescent shapes continues across multiple facets of the game:

I personally find it fascinating that the Witch’s Mark incorporates both crescent shapes and circles to denote the Moon and the Sun while simultaneously invoking the Taoist ying yang with a “light” half and a “dark” half. Instead of teardrops with circles contained inside, the design implements crescents that are capped with circles that break their boundaries. The eye around which these shapes are built recalls that witches and sages in Bayonetta’s world are able to “see” across differing planes of existence, that their “perception” goes beyond the typical sense of the word. It’s design is proto-humanoid (not specific in its design, but obvious in its intent) and somewhat reminiscent of the ancient Egyptian Eye of Horus. This pseudo-Egyptian/ancient civilizations style is carried into the game with enemy and level design.

The Witch’s Mark and Yin Yang

The Witch’s Mark represents the pinnacle of good graphic design. It is easily broken apart and utilized in other places, instantly recognizable, and serves as a platform from which near-endless layers of information can be extracted. It covers all the major thematic cues, helps to better explain the game universe to the player and informs nearly all facets of the art direction in Bayonetta. It is beyond clear that Kamiya and his art team put as much time into crafting a game that weaves a unified aesthetic as well as pushes the boundaries of what makes a technically proficient action title.

Recreating the Witch’s Mark:

In recreating the mark, I attempted to capture it from the game (as seen in the above screenshots) but decided that the logo was the best place to start. It was also beneficial that I could easily obtain high-resolution files of the logo as compared to other usages of the design. Given that the bulk of it’s middle is obscured by the typeface, the middle portion presented much of a challenge.

I originally began my recreation by starting with the easiest shapes, the outer rings and the circle-bundles that terminate the two main crescent shapes on the mark. Essentially tracing the design as best as I could, it became somewhat apparent to me that there was an interrelation between all the shapes involved in the design. Whereas one shape might be light outlined with dark, the reverse would be so on the opposite side of the design. Using what I could make out from the symbol in the level-select screen and from its projection in the wall-walk sections of the game, I recreated essentially what I thought the eye shape would look like in the middle. I used a basic “rune” font for the text, however it appears that a custom typeface is used in the game.

I was satisfied with the final product, however it was obvious that I had failed to grasp the “philosophy” of the design. The curves around the eyes were not symmetrical, and in general it seemed like the shapes were not relating to one another and instead were simply sort of made to sit next to one another. However as I began to research the symbol itself, I came across the Scarborough Fair guns artwork used above. Seeing this, the Witch’s mark design revealed its secret to me. It is essentially a series of circles intersecting with one another at various angles. All of the crescent shapes and filler shapes in the mark’s design are a by-product of subtracting circles from one another. You can see this basic relationship shown below:

Circle diagram over Witch’s Mark

Once I had this in hand, I set about redoing the mark using this information. The process took about half as long. Knowing that as long as I set up the proper alignment and placement of circles as a starting “grid” I could easily subtract and combine the necessary shapes to arrive at the final design. This worked flawlessly and the sheer intelligence behind the design and how this concept is incorporated into nearly every facet of the game, my appreciation for this title has grown immeasurably.

Kudos to the team at Platinum for crafting artwork that is so beautiful and so integrated its likely (and a shame) that a majority of players will never notice it.

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Posted in Bayonetta, Icons

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