For lighting, where gameplay allowed, we melded filosophies between cinema and the classical art world. Flattering forms, giving points of interest to guide the eye, depth of shading that is readable at a glance without squinting through surface detail is invaluable. Artists making individual assets out of context have a tendency to obsess over granular details so the object stands on its own, but it will never have to. In a scene accented with shadows and, interesting specular responses, the scene as a whole is what's going to be consumed. Attention to detail is a must, but for the health of the project and its people, obsessing over stitches and microdetail is folly. Better to focus the brunt of quality to the granularity that people experience during gameplay.
Lighting is so much more important than in last gen games. I will make amazing assets look even better... or very cheap, depending on how it's done. Lighting that not only looks accurate and plausable, but is richer and deeper than a normal tuesday. You can be realistic without falling into naturalism, and be more colorful than the strict photon simulation that comes with the engine.
In a game where magic is the main event, we needed to make a VFX splash. This game grants the user the ability to use magic in an unlimited, creative, uninhibited way. It needed to feel like it! To communicate all the different gameplay hints, iconic differences between magic types and their effects on the world, we went bold.
Necromancy. Embodies the occult energies of the undead, the viscocity and messiness of decomposing matter, with the promise of a renewal and transformation after the process is done. An enemy is afflicted and becomes a seed of un-life upon death. When he dies, a long burried corpse from a different era will soak up the necrotic residue and springs up in service to you.
Phase is a space-time anomally forced into this plane by your raw power. Matter and energy get rent apart into vibrations that warp the air around it. It can make a body become stranded in time, become unstable in space, or even bloom into a broader event that slows time around the user. All at your behest.
These visual languages and conventions helped (among many others) to convey to the artists the feeling they should achieve in the observer's gut. At the same time, telling the player of possibilities of complex interaction between the player and the world around him.