Pendulum Custom Playmat

Almost every piece of art starts from a different place (assuming you don’t keep working from the same style guide). Its as if there’s a large panel of dials, sliders, buttons, flashing lights, and each time you start a project they are all in different positions and states. In this instance the slider for teeny tiny details is set to max and the dial for ‘theres a very specific set of parameters required’ is at 11. This time I’m going to be talking about the first mat I’ve designed with the pendulum zones in mind, covering the various restrictions I had to work under and explaining the outcomes those restrictions produced.
The main details for this mat were all locked down pretty early in the process of discussion with the person who had asked for it. Sometimes people don’t really know what they want beyond a vague topic or initial set of characters (and we will be looking at one of those in that category at some point within the next few posts) This can give you a great deal of freedom but equally can cause a bit of a headache when your trying to figure out what sort of things they might like or are trying to form a nebulous concept into something solid.

On the other side of the coin we have designs like the one we are looking at today where the person knows exactly what that want right down to the placement of the individual elements. In instances like this you have a very solid foundation and have to find the best way to implement it and any of the design flourishes you may come up with along the way into a cohesive whole. I would imagine most designers, much like myself, like to start from a position somewhere between the two most of the time it is however nice to be forced to mix things up, to be forced down avenues your wouldn’t normally consider, restriction as they so often do create new opportunities.

In this instance our restrictions as follows are:
The zone layout of a typical Yugioh field including the new pendulum zones.
The fact that specific artwork has to be at specific locations.
There needs to be a skull near the graveyard
That it would be quite nice if this design in some way referenced an existing mat, most likely in the form of the colour scheme of the background.

So lets work out way though each element

The zone layout is straightforward enough. Most of us should be relatively familiar with it if we have spent any time playing Yugioh. I wont mention what I think of the choice of placement of the new pendulum zones but it is what it is I suppose. I will however point out for a game with no other limiting resource system the fact that they haven’t used the way the field can naturally limit things is a bit odd, for example what if Syncro/XYZ materials remained in their zones and the monster replacing them sat between them therefor taking up two zones, how powerful could a creature that essentially reduced your zone count by 1 be? would you risk playing a powerful monster that said the spell zone behind it couldn’t be used?

And breath.

My thoughts on game design aside this part of the process is all about measuring 9000 times drawing, well, more than once as it turned out, What really helped was setting real cards out on a blank mat and moving them about until you think you have the placement that seems about right. Through this process  for example I realised that the 5 Monster and Spell zones would have to be closer together than I had originally thought if everything was going to fit. It also solidified my belief that it was best to keep those zones away from the top or bottom of the mat, the top because that a bit far to reach and the bottom because people have a tendency to rest their elbows there and things can get lost or fall off the table by being brushed by arms.

The zones on the outer edge of the design also went through a number of placements. I could for example have aligned the main deck with the exile zone above it, however that didn’t feel quite right from a number of perspective most notably the mat’s overall design balance, I didn’t want the right side with its extra card to ‘weigh’ more than the left than it really had to.

Similarly putting a boarder around the central section servers both to emphasise the main play area and means that while keeping that area relatively clutter free to help prevent mental fatigue I could add a more complex border area.

In this image I’ve blown up a number of the elements from the mat for a closer look

The most tricky element of this design was that the materials I use have something of a minimum scale they can work at, basically once you start getting down to trying to draw the little stars and write the element names on the circles you start to find the materials want to flow more than you would like and have you actually looked at Xyz Universe? I was seriously considering doing it in pointillism,

My favourite element is probably the Soul Release, not only partly because its one of my favourite cards but also because I think it turned out really well in terms of matching the original, perhaps it has something to do with digital art these days being done at such high resolution in comparison to back in the late 90’s early 2000’s.Luckily for me the issue of real estate for the card art itself was somewhat alleviated though the use of the anime style boarders otherwise things would have been even more tiny. It did however requite me to spend some time working on making sure they looked right in their new scale, a oblong Seal of Orichalcos would have been a bit odd.

Its always a little surprising how much material plain backgrounds can use up I almost ran out of blue working on this one. Design wise while in this case I’m riffing of the colour scheme of the original mat the center point this time is in the bottom right and spreads out in rings from there, these quarter ring segments come together to form something of a linear rainbow gradient that with the help of the pendulum pulls your eyes across the image. The interference patterns caused by the crystals are mainly there to break up what would otherwise be a much larger expanses of colour and again add an element of movement.

I could have gone with a more standard skull design for the graveyard however after deciding to have a clean central area and a more complex boarder I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps everything should be tied into each other a bit more deliberately. ‘Well’  I thought, ‘theres a tree right there why not extend the art out of the card and have that area of the boarder made of vines? what do we have on the other side, artefacts huh well then gears seem appropriate’. Admittedly the circuit board design element of the bottom around the extra deck is a little less obvious as its more of a reference to the design aesthetic of the Yugioh Zexal cartoon but still. Finally these elements are fused together with vines morphing into lines, flowers becoming gears and the pendulum bringing it all together with a mix of everything.

In the end I can say it’s a design I wouldn’t have necessarily ever considered creating by myself which is one of the best parts of doing designs for other people. It definitely pushed the limits of where I was in terms of level of tiny detail at the time. But as we will see later this month (well November probably) it certainly was a valuable experience for what would come next. So until next time embrace the restrictions and see where they may lead you

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