Friday, January 20, 2023

Exuberance!


 One of my side projects in 2022 was experimenting with Camille C on various game ideas, more as experiments in visuals and feel than anything. I like the idea of trying to capture a mood, and her bright, vibrant style is much more exuberant and hopeful than a lot of the games I tend to work on. Quite an interesting experience trying to shift my familiar style into that kind of atmosphere.

This overhead map piece was probably the most enjoyable thing for me to paint in those tests - I was trying to create that essence of a downtown shopping district in the kind of game that might have been marketed at high school students in the 00s. The sort of affair where your activities might be shopping, hanging out with friends, doing homework, etc. I always thought that games like The Sims present an interesting and worthy alternative to the very dramatic and violent standard that we expect now, without shifting into the sort of look that might be used for a game aimed at children under 10 like Mario or Sonic.

For me, starting with a base of green, orange and purple made a lot of sense here. When doing Unavowed I started my tests with the “classic primary” colour palette of red, blue and yellow, and in my hands those colours tend to be very dramatic and sombre. Shifting into the “classic secondary” palette like this allowed me to get as far away from that as possible to help me kick things off in the right direction. I also like how this allowed me to bring in the teal and gold as really lively feature colours to help highlight things that I wanted people to look at, and working with clean, white outlines felt very vibrant and crisp to me, an attempt to match Camille’s very clean and punchy character style.

One element I did keep around was leaning into showing some brush strokes and not cleaning up too much. I do think that this kind of look gives so much texture and a sense of detail which bring a liveliness to a scene that very clean paint work cannot supply. This also highlights the sort of scene that I am very fortunate to be able to mockup in 3D and then paint over - I absolutely would not want to attempt this with a grid if on a time limit.

This is just a start, but I think it’s great to try and expand our styles. Every slightly new direction helps me flesh out my skill set! We plan to keep working on things in 2023, so expect to see more of this exuberant look!

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

2023

 


Just a quick note to thank you all for reading along in 2022 and to welcome you all to check back in on this place in 2023 to see what I’m up to. I’ve got a few different artistic & creative goals lined up for the year - the smallest (but tastiest) of these being to learn how to bake bread. Here’s my second ever loaf, as it looked in the oven today. I’ve already eaten far too much of it. Let’s hope the rest of my attempts at learning things will be as successful and as delicious!

Friday, December 16, 2022

A Decade of This


I’m currently in New York City, and naturally met up with Mr Dave Gilbert for lunch, just to catch up and chat after over three years of not seeing each other in person. While we were chatting it occurred to me that it had been just over 10 years since Dave needed a new background artist for The Blackwell Epiphany, and asked if I’d be interested in the role. I’d done some animation work for Dave in the past, and some conceptual stuff, and I had reached a point doing low resolution adventure game graphics where I felt I could do a solid job of it. 

A little over a year later we had completed the game, finishing up the series, and I think we knew then that we shared a vision. While our tastes and our skills are quite different, they complement each other well, and we feed off each other’s creative energy well. Along the way Dave had promised that he’d have enough work to pay me a regular wage, and so I handed in my notice at my old job and have been drawing for him ever since.

A decade after that email asking whether I’d like to take a stab at the backgrounds, I’m still doing this, and it’s been a decade with many ups and downs, but it’s been a rich experience overall. Epiphany was an interesting game for both Dave and I, and I think that sense of a shared vision we established in making it is something that has endured.

For me the most intimidating aspect of the project at the very start was the question of whether I had an endurance to do all the backgrounds and animations for a game of such a size by myself. Looking back now, it’s funny that this was my main concern - that decade has, if nothing else, proved my endurance through a project to myself. As with all work I can’t help but feel that I’d change so many things were I do do this game over. I doubt that feeling will ever truly go away.

Regardless, there was a special moment when I had this first scene painted up, and characters in and animations playing - the falling snow, a taxi driving past in the background, and just the colours and lights all working together in the composition and I sat back and thought “Yes, this is going to be good.” It’s that sort of feeling that drives me, more than anything else, and after a decade of this, I’m still doing my best to bring that feeling to life with each scene, in each project, and that’s still the best part for me. I hope to keep doing it for a while still.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Starflight

Whenever I need a new mouse pad I like to take the nice cover art from an older game that I admire, give it a little edit in Photoshop as necessary and get my own custom one printed up. My trusty old Star Wars: Dark Forces mouse pad is getting a little shabby, so I decided it was time for a new one.

I like the cover art for all the Starflight games, including the wayward child of the series Protostar, and so I thought one of those covers would be a great option this time. My edits on this one involved painting out the Electronic Arts logo in the bottom right corner, and painting some extra space and planet on the left and right sides in order to have plenty of bleed space without having to zoom in more and leave out the nice details. 

It's a pretty loose edit job, and there's a few upscaling artifacts, but I was pretty confident that it would look totally natural once printed on a mouse pad, and it does. I've uploaded the file here just in case there's somehow another person out there who'd like their own Starflight mouse pad. Just keep in mind that the left and right inch of the piece are painted in by me after the fact and therefore it's not a 100% accurate version of the original painting.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Back to the Drawing Board

 


I've been doing a lot of end-of-year revising of my work lately - some of this is because I'm in the middle of Old Skies, and the middle of a project is where the sheen of a "new thing" has dissipated a little, and the job is largely production work rather than creative solving problems, some of it being because Nighthawks is going to soon be at the point where I need to go back and polish things, cast an eye over everything I've already done and fill in the missing pieces that we didn't know were missing, and I need to have my critical glasses on in order to polish that project up the way it deserves.

The tough part about this sort of revision is that usually with a few months of space between the creation of a piece of work I can see the flaws that I was happy to ignore at the time, and while this can be a little frustrating and also generates a need to quickly touch up endless amounts of work, it's also satisfying because it feels like this is the right mindset for growing & learning. I've got a couple of months of pretty hefty study planned to fill in some of my massive weak areas, especially after a year of pretty solid production work, and my brain has never felt more ready to tackle some specific elements of technique & knowledge that have intimidated me in the past. By the end of a study block like that I'm always absolutely ready to take a break from learning things and just get down to production, too, which is also a great thing.

For now, here's an old study piece I did a couple of years ago that I liked well enough to touch up just a tiny bit tonight. Been too long since I did this sort of thing. Thanks for all the support this year, and here's to a wonderful 2023 for us all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

MEAT


Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator's aesthetic was a vulgar, throbbing mess. What a fun project. The palette ended up being a mix of P1 phosphor greens and a sickly alt-CGA dose of magenta, purple & infra-cyan, dithered to hell and brought to life in flashing, pulsing style.


That palette helped us make the game something unique. I always like to work on projects that are recognisable at a glance - being memorable is more interesting to me than just "looking good". It's fun to make a game that you can't possibly mistake for anything else.

We chanted "MEAT" at each other, shared our love for the Command & Conquer install program, and embraced the dither, the weird palette shifts and somehow wholeheartedly brought this to life. Try to convert a screenshot of the game to greyscale and you'll see how much of the palette's contrast was derived from unusual leaps in hue & saturation that somehow end up working. I love limited palettes for a multitude of reasons, but hadn't used them in over a decade. This might be one of the best ones I've worked in.


I think the fever of our work on the game shows in the finished product. Colours flash and glow, the flesh throbs, the market moves constantly and stressfully. It's uncomfortable, kind of repulsive, and it knows exactly what it is trying to be. It took me back to days of gleeful chaos in jam games, weird experiments, of being a young game developer and indulging in the act of creating something. It's very different to most of my work now, which is carefully planned, and quite rigid in its definition of success and beauty. Very satisfying work, but I also loved revisiting that chaotic energy of old here.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Re-Imagined

One of the most fun personal projects I had this year was taking inspiration from a variety of games that I love the world/characters/aesthetic of and seeing how they'd look in the style of adventure game that I'm used to drawing. I already posted about the process behind one of these but it seems sensible enough to collect them here as well for posterity.

There's a couple of reasons I loved doing these. One was that I got to play for a little while in these other worlds, settings that I don't normally get to experiment with, and that's always wonderful. Especially as I'm an epic sci fi/fantasy kind of guy, and rarely get to draw that sort of thing. Another great aspect was trying to take design cues from other artistic sources and incorporate them into my own work. Amazing what you can learn doing this. Finally, and probably the best of all, it's just nice to do tiny projects, things that can be finished in a single evening or two, especially these days when the games I work on are always getting bigger and more complex and everything takes years to do. It's a huge boost to just finish something small and put it out there into the world. There were a bunch of other games I would love to do this for - Anachronox, Omikron: The Nomad Soul, The Outer Wilds, Caves of Qud, Planescape: Torment, the list goes on and on. Maybe someday I'll do some more.

One quick note - I never ended up posting the scene from Command & Conquer: Red Alert because I finished that one on the 23rd of February 2022, and posting it at that time seemed to be in very poor taste. I'm putting it up here for posterity, nothing more. I only ever showed it to about three people, but I had a good time looking at M√łnsted's snow and trying to figure out how he did the colours. I'd do it slightly differently looking back at it now, as would I put more detail on the tank, etc, but such is the nature of hindsight and rushed personal projects. 

Thanks to everybody who boosted these back when I was doing them, the response to this project was so encouraging.

Disco Elysium

Heaven's Vault

Beyond Good & Evil

The Operative: No One Lives Forever

Shadowrun: Dragonfall

Command & Conquer: Red Alert

Outcast

Thief: Deadly Shadows

Final Fantasy IX

Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee