The art of Story Cards

By Phil Stuart, How we did it

Story Cards is our tablet-based collectible card game (CCG) featuring famous authors and characters from classic literature.  As the students read books pre-installed on an ebook reader, new cards become available for use in the game, creating a virtuous circle between playing the game and reading itself.

For this first release of Story Cards we created illustrated cards from the books in the Gutenberg Press back catalogue. This post focuses on this art task, and our approach to bringing to life some of the most famous characters in literary history.

The brief

The brief for art was to create characterful, charmingly-rendered illustrations that would make the cards both memorable and collectable.

We needed a high impact 2D style that steered away from anything too cartoony whilst remaining fun and characterful. It needed to accommodate characters and authors that wouldn’t necessarily translate well to illustrations, and be flexible enough to suit a wide variety of themes and personalities.

In total we had to to illustrate over 200 characters, and all of them needed to feel unique and accurately represent the characters and authors they were based on.

Montessor – The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe.

Our approach

Considering the number of cards required, it was important that the process was as simple as possible.

Originally we thought that having a black and white palette was the way to go, eliminating a colouring stage and ultimately becoming less time consuming. After a couple of tests, we all agreed that this would make the cards dull and underwhelming.

What we eventually agreed on was a reduced palette, using a selection of only 3 colours. This proved beneficial for the art style, ensuring the game’s art direction felt more balanced and considered.

To ensure the characters were visually unpredictable and interesting, I added distortion and exaggeration to their features. In the early development of the style it became apparent that cards with interesting poses and stances were more appealing and this became a very helpful way of portraying personality and character.


6 characters you can unlock in the game.

There were many times I made characters more theatrical to really push for that initial impression, so players could instantly read if a character was sinister, kind, wacky etc.

We needed to factor in that many kids would see characters in battles from books they haven’t read yet. Adding a small element of storytelling and an inviting sense of mystery and drama to each character would hopefully encourage players to seek out these characters and their stories and, ultimately, read their books.

Avoiding the typical portrayal of famous literary characters was essential. The illustrations needed to be unique and surprising, challenging the reader’s perception of the character so that they always anticipated receiving a new card.

Count Dracula.

Peter Pan.

Making the art

I begin each illustration with a rough a sketch, mapping out a pose and initial shape for the character. It was important to strongly consider the space I was using at this stage, how could I make this character’s silhouette recognisable? Once I have this established, I move on to creating the linework.

I then move onto adding monochrome tones to the image and here we can add the shadows, lighting and drama to the illustration.

The final stage is adding colour, the tones help give the impression that there are more colours on screen, when in actual fact there I’ve only used 3 or 4.

Jane Austin’s Emma Woodhouse.

New Style

Based on extremely positive playtesting and Amplify’s strong belief in the product, the game is being iterated and improved daily.

A key requirement is expanding the books the game serves, and consequently the range of cards available to collect by the player. In order to maintain interest in new cards, we have recently introduced a new art style, created with the same amount of personality and character as the previous art style, but more graphical and punchy!

It’s been such a fun experience to have the opportunity to be able to visualise and re-imagine book characters, I’ve learned a huge amount since the very first character drawing and I’m hopeful they will leave a lasting impression on the players

It is anticipated that the Story Cards collection will continue to grow, along with the range of artwork to really ensure players can really get the most out of their learning experience.

Captain Nemo from Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea.

Humpty Dumpty and Phileas Fogg.

Ozma from Ozma of OZ.

Phil is the co-founder and Creative Director of Preloaded. A fanatical gamer and a champion for the power of games which do more than just entertain, he is responsible for the studio’s ‘Games with Purpose’ vision.

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