Once I'd made the decision to go with a physical game, I had to figure out how that differed from a computerized one and what new elements would be needed. While the overall premise of the game and the logic flow would be similar, the interface would definitely not be.
In a computerized game, you can create vast worlds with extremely rich and elaborate details, your only limits being imagination – and budget. You can interact with the user in a whole bunch of varied and attention-grabbing ways. You can precisely create your imagined world, with minimal input required on the part of the player's imagination.
But with a physical game, as with a book or a painting, there's only so much "fidelity" you can put into an object before the participant's imagination is required. And as I'm constantly learning with fellow game designers, there's an elegance and an art to re-engaging that imagination in myriad ways.
This was an entirely new endeavor for me, so everything was going to be a learning experience. Which is perhaps what made it most exciting. But I had a specific look in mind, and I wanted to present the story and its characters, in gameplay, as I'd imagined them. While I could manage a lot of those things on my own -- as evidenced by my attempts at prototype sketches of the game – I wasn't going to do so entirely alone. I needed an artist. But more than just that, I needed someone who could see the same images I'd had rattling around in my head and help turn them into reality. So a search for such an artist began in earnest.
It's amazing how your brain can assemble things when it's required to do so, while at other times it blindly ignores what's directly in front of you. I started my search in the usual way, by asking friends if they knew an artist. Most of those leads resulted in dead ends. A collaboration with a particular artist might at first seem promising, but I would soon be disappointed by our inability to see eye to eye on anything, from mechanics and scheduling to desired look or intent. I felt frustrated and adrift. I could, of course, have gone with one of those freelancer websites, but I wanted to work with someone I actually knew, or knew through someone I knew … you know?
After a period of directionless searching for the right artist, I suddenly realized that one of my clients was a creative design company with several talented artists on staff whom I knew personally. I'm not sure why I didn't think of this at first, but there was a definite facepalm-duh moment once my brain allowed me access to that little bit of knowledge again. I didn't expect to hire any of them directly – let's face it, who goes home to do even more of what they've already been doing all day? They all had full-time jobs, and I doubted they'd also want to do that same work as a side job. But I figured they could point me in the right direction.
And for my persistence, I would soon be afforded a bit of delayed serendipity. I made a quick call to a friend of mine at the company. After a nice catch-up conversation, I explained what I was looking for. To my surprise, he expressed interest in the work himself, but as expected, he simply didn't have the time. C’est la vie and all that. He did, however, know someone he thought would be perfect for this project. As it happens, Steve had recently ventured out on his own as a freelance artist – after an established career as an illustrator.
It was obvious from the initial contact that I would like working with Steve. He was professional and confident, and most importantly, he sounded excited about the project. I explained what I was looking for, and from that first phone call, we were already tossing around ideas as each of us tried to get a feel for how the other thought. He wouldn't be able to start working until his current client obligation was complete, so that gave me roughly two months to think about what elements I needed him to create for me.
It was important to me to work with someone who could take the ideas I had, inject his own artistic eye into the work, and produce a final product we could both be happy with. I didn't want someone who would be off in a vacuum doing his own thing or, conversely, someone who needed every facet outlined in excruciating detail. Steve managed to strike the perfect balance.
My initial test case was the zombie series. Zombies and skeletons are, in theory, pretty straightforward. Any decent artist wanting to do this kind of work can draw a good zombie or skeleton. But it was the way Steve
took the poses, the shapes, and the overall look, then blended it with his own unique style, that truly brought these critters to life (or is it undead?). Later, I would tell him things like, "I want a blob-looking monster, kinda pinkish fleshy looking, dripping and just made up of random body parts."
Then I'd send him a few sample images of stuff that hit the right notes for me. Within a day or two (sometimes that same afternoon), he'd send me back an initial "napkin" sketch that I swear was like he had excised from my head. I've worked with few people who were on the same page as me on so many things. That itself was a truly rewarding experience. And it is what has allowed us to create such gorgeous art throughout the game.
Working with Steve has allowed me to create the game I wanted to create and to shape the visual experience I wanted players to have within that game. I could've gone with simpler-looking objects or ones with less detail. Or we could've simply created one image of each monster type and just printed that on all the players' monster cards. But I wanted an experience in which each turn of a card revealed different-looking nasties staring you in the face. I wanted a visual experience that would immerse the players in the game. And I wanted to have fun creating those nasties while shaping the world players would be immersed in. On all accounts, I found the perfect partner in Steve to do just that.
In the next post, we’ll delve a bit more into the art, the progress of its creation, and we will have some more early sketches to share. So stay tuned!