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Skip Navigation LinksPlayHard > In English > Making a Game: Art Direction (Part III). Interview with Edmundo Bordeu

Название: Zeno Clash
Разработчик: ACE Team
Зарубежный издатель: ACE Team
Издатель в России: Новый Диск
Официальный сайт игры: перейти
Системные требования:
P4-3.0, 1 GB RAM, 128 MB 3D Card
P4-3.0, 1 GB RAM, 128 MB 3D Card
MultiPlayer: нет
Жанр: Action, First Person Shooter
Игра вышла: 21.04.2009
Рейтинг: 7.5

It is a known fact that videogame artists provide all the Artwork for a game. We mean not only the pictures you usually see when your save game loads up but also the whole world you find inside a game with characters that inhabit it and enrich your experience making it much more entertaining. Though it is all quite different if you in addition manage the whole team of artists trying to keep the visual style of the project being unified, unique and intriguing. Recently we've caught up with Edmundo Bordeu, the Art Director at ACE Team finishing the development of Zeno Clash, who has really suprised us with his deep knowledge on the subject, writing passion and the extremely responsible approach to his work.

A picture of Edmundo at the south of Chile at a place called 'Piedra Del Aguila' that is full of incredibly old Araucaria trees. When you are there, you can see 3 dormant volcanos simultaneously

- Please, introduce yourself to the Russian gamers.

- I am Edmundo Bordeu, I am one of the founders of ACE Team, and I am Art director for Zeno Clash.

- Where did you study?

- I studied at Universidad Catolica (a University here at Chile). first I studied architecture for about a year. I liked the classes, but after a while I started thinking on what an architect actually does at work every day, and that it wasn’t what I wanted to do the rest of my life. I then entered a different programme where you can take classes about anything for two years before you have to decide what you are going to end up doing. During this whole time, and before this event, I always worked in small games or mods for Doom or Quake, and actually this was the learning experience that has allowed me to work on videogames which gave more than any classes at the University. I pretty much had decided I wanted to work in the videogames' industry, so I started studying design to complement what I already knew.

- What was the first game you played and your impressions about it?

The first games I played must have been on a Macintosh Plus, long before I even knew what a Nintendo was. I was too young to remember exactly what I thought then, but I still have that Macintosh, and the coolest game there was Dark Castle (1986). You played as prince Duncan. It had rats, mutants, henchmen and awesome sound! I remember thinking it was so silly that my dad had bought the computer to work with, but the programs he used were so unimpressive compared to Dark Castle.

Edmundo still finds the graphics of Dark Castle pretty impressive for a game released in 1986

- Tell us about your first job.

- My first job was freelance working for company that was making a MultiPlayer game. I was contacted by a fellow Chilean mod-maker who told me about these guys. Their system was having people all over the world working on the game: you could work from home, got paid by the hour and everything was coordinated by e-mail and IRC-clients. I worked making character models, animations and textures mostly. The bad part was that I never got paid. I was very naive, because I found out shortly after had started to work that there was no funding for the project yet. At that moment I should have left or said they should pay me at least some percent in advance. But the Lead Designer was always so enthusiastic about the game and funding was always so close. This happened close to the year 2000 and that game still hasn’t been released. I also learned that working on a big project where all the people are at different places and everyone works an undefined number of hours just doesn’t run so smoothly.

- What can you say about your writing activities?

- My favourite genre is probably Science fiction. I really like Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), not only his science fiction novels but also his Essays and Historical fiction novels. The way we worked on Zeno Clash as a game made writing for it a very complicated process. I think the first version of the story was written by my brothers, Carlos and Andrés, but the final version was written by me. Before we started working on the current game we had made a prototype that had many gameplay features completely different from the current Action-oriented Zeno Clash. This prototype (Zenozoik) was more of an RPG and you could choose from 3 main character classes. Then it was going to be a Cooperative adventure where you could choose 3 different characters and finally it turned into a Single player adventure. All these changes made us re-write the story many times (the plot of Zeno Clash was probably re-written more times than the plot for Alien 3), but I think it was a good thing to have all that time to change, revise and edit things.

I think the game started because of a series of books called “Sorcery” By Steve Jackson and illustrated by John Blanche. The world in the first “Zenozoik” had some similarities with the world in “Sorcery”: it was rather ugly and the cities were chaotic. But I still felt our story was not very different from other fantasy stories in games out there. So I went back to the books, read them, read about them and I found somewhere on the Internet that John Blanche’s illustrations were described as “punk fantasy”. I think those words, “punk fantasy”, are the thing that changed our story the most, I tried to make a world consistent with this concept.

First of all, I thought that in a punk world there is no authority, kingdom, state or approved laws of any kind. Second, this was not going to be a battle of Good VS Evil, because these stories always deal with simplified, absolute values and that is not consistent with a punk world (I don’t believe in Evil anyways). Third, this would not be a story about saving the world, because saving the world is just too “grandiose” or epic. This is how I finally arrived at a main character, Ghat, who is neither Good nor Evil (well, maybe “not likeable”) and he is in conflict with his family (not some state or impersonal army) because I wanted everyone who wants to hurt Ghat to have a face and a name.

- How have your skills evolved over time?

- It has been a very gradual process. The first thing was drawing, but ever since I have a memory I have been making Mods, 2D or 3D-graphics, writing something or learning something, so I would say my skills have evolved with my work.

- How has your career developed further?

- Modding was the best learning experience. I did work for a couple of months on three commercial projects for another Chilean company but my brothers and I, we always really wanted to be able to work on our own games, so we founded  ACE Team one or two years ago. The first letters of "ACE" originally meant “Andrés Carlos Edmundo” so that’s how I "joined" ACE Team.

- What award would you like to get?

We submitted Zeno Clash to the Independent Games Festival this year, so I would be incredibly happy to receive an award in an art category. And not as important, I admit it would be awesome if any Cosplayer dressed like one of the characters I’ve designed (it would have to be a very brave Cosplayer though).

- Who knows, Edmundo! I've had a chance to visit an Anime Party in Moscow not at the Halloween night. It was full of really brave Cosplayers since they weren't afraid of travelling home at midnight in their scary outfits. What do you like the most in your current job?

- I think what I like the most is the possibility to just make stuff up. And I’d like to give you an example of something I did just last week. Right now we are on the stage of development where the story is written, the characters are modeled, even lighting and animation are just being tweaked and polished, so you would think the possibility to “make stuff up” is not so available anymore, however I was supposed to write a couple of lines of dialogue for a character in the game: a hunter trying to shoot the player. He just needed to taunt or warn the player so it wouldn’t seem unfair or unexpected to be shot at and that’s all that was needed. But then I thought “What if the hunter is blind?". What if, instead of being a cocky hunter who warns the player before shooting, he is blind and actually has a hard time shooting at him because he can only shoot at the sounds he hears? I thought it would make the hunter much more interesting. So then I talked about this idea with other people of the team. I open my ears to hear if the idea was terrible, I get good suggestions, I re-write the lines for the character, we record them, we change a few animations and assets, and voila! I just made the hunter blind! I really enjoy making concept art and modeling, but I still think that “making stuff up” instead of having to do things as you are told is what I enjoy the most of my job.

- That's a very creative approach you've picked up! Excelente! Tell us about your usual work day.

It used to be cool among Modders to be able to say “I worked 20 hours straight without eating or sleeping”, because it showed how "Hardcore" or committed you were. But when you actually have a job making videogames that is not cool at all. Even in crunch time or when we just have to finish something before a deadline, it is not a good idea to work tortuous sessions, because the next day you will be a tired, inefficient person. Still, I do work a couple of extra hours at the end of the day many times.

The first thing I do when I get to the office is saying "Hi!" to the whole team and see what interesting news or blogs someone might be checking out. Usually I'm the last one to get to the office, so when I arrive there is some kind of news already. Since the whole team works in one big space (we don’t like the cubicle sort of office space), I can talk to everyone from my desk and that is where I work and spend most of the day.

- What do you think about Corporate parties?

- I don’t think I have ever had to deal with the Corporate parties. ACE Team is a small group of developers, so sometimes we do all go out and have a drink (maybe a celebration, it could be someone’s birthday or someone bought a new apartment) and I think it is good to see your fellow workers outside the office, but I would never call it a "Corporate party". There is no “management” involved, no planned intention to boost morale. I suppose this is a good thing that works well with a small team where everybody knows each other.

- Do you drive?

- I got my Driver's license as soon as I could (when I was 17 - it is the earliest age you can get it here in Chile), but in less than a month I already hated driving. Maybe it’s just the traffic in the city I live in, but for me being in a car is being worried all the time. I go everywhere I can on my bicycle (a "TREK 4300") and I wouldn’t change that for any kind of car.

- What’re your favorite gaming genres?

- I play all kinds of games, but my favorite genre is FPS (First Person Shooters). I have played Doom II: Hell on Earth (1994) for years. After that I really liked games changing the genre, especially The Thief (1998-2004) and System Shock 2 (1999). To name something more recent I would have to say Portal (2007).

- Is there a very anticipated game project for you?

- Rage
. I really like what id Software does, though I can’t say I liked Doom 3 (2004) that much, but I suppose I had too high expectations because Doom II: Hell on Earth (1994) was the greatest game of all time for me, but finally id Software is working on a new original title and it looks really cool.

- Name some things you associate with Russia.

Writer Dostoievsky, movie "Stalker" (1979), Space travels and Vodka.

Edmundo's Desktop Theme

- What picture is used for your Windows Desktop?

Right now my desktop has a Self-portrait by Alexander Lobanov (he is Russian!). I found this when I was reading the article in Wikipedia about “outsider art” or art made by people who have nothing to do with the mainstream channels of art. In the picture Lobanov is a kid and he is shooting at his psychiatrist. The scene is very absurd, but I like Nonsensical art because it is often also sincere.

- How can you describe a typical future gamer?

- I think that until recently being a gamer was being a member of a “niche” or a “subculture”. When you talked about games only a few other people knew what you were so excited about. I’m not saying that everyone plays games now, but there are games made for everyone, so everyone has at least seen a game they might like to play. I think it will be important for gamers to find more diversity in the games they play. The “tried and tested formulas” will become synonym to “tired formulas”. Another trend is that not only more people are playing, but they are playing more hours. I don’t think this trend can go on forever. Only the really hardcore fans will want an 80 hours game that dominates their world.


- Give some advice to the people who would like to lead Art departments in a gaming studio.

- I think experience making your own art is one of the most important things to give Art direction. I don’t know if other Art directors work orchestrating and describing what they want to see, but most of my work is making images and those images need to be good and original if I want to be the Art director. There are good books on Figure Drawing by Andrew Loomis, I also recommend "Painting with Light" by John Alton which talks about lighting techniques used in films. Many other things I have learnt from the Internet, maybe reading about Screenwriting or checking out the Forums where other people show their Art telling how they actually made it.

- Can Art Direction be learnt?

- The skills required can be learnt in a University: to work in a team, be able to communicate your ideas, drawing, understanding color and lighting, creative writing, the history of art, e t.c. I think all these things were available to me on the courses where I studied Design.

- Name some rules any Art Director has to follow to be successful.

This is the first time I am the Art director for a project this big, so I can give a couple of suggestions, but I don’t feel wise enough to hand out golden rules yet.

1) Never loose the sight of the main concept you had in mind from the beginning. Maybe you don’t have a verbal description of this concept, but maybe you will see or hear where something just doesn’t feel right and in those moments you have to remember what the main concept was.

2) Don’t smother the artists. At the beginning of Zeno Clash I had a very well defined color palette and it bothered me whenever an artist didn’t use it. But after seeing the work that was being made and after making many models and characters myself I found out the color palette was a bit limiting and that it had to be adjusted. I would say you have to watch a lot of your team's efforts before deciding to edit anything.

Edmundo is seen vacationing in Spain being on a really tight budget with this pizza for two euros turning into the cheapest food he could find

- What Art techniques are the most popular nowadays?

What I have seen on the rise are monochromatic atmospheres. It probably started with War games trying to imitate the look and feel of the high contrast, desaturated images of the movie "Saving Private Ryan". It gave an effect of “realism” because that is how we imagine War scenes: colors faded and gritty, because either the pictures or the films we see about those times are desaturated. The funny thing is that reality is not made of desaturated colors, but we are used to this stylistic tool. Variations of what I call the “monochromatic atmosphere” are everywhere: Science fiction fantasy uses blue or green filters (think about "The Matrix") and traditional fantasy also uses brown, blue and green atmospheres since the movie version of "The Lord of the Rings". This tool does make it easier to make some images look more consistent, but when too many people do the same thing, it feels uninspired.

- What software for making Art do you use in your work?

I don’t think I start anything without before using pencil & paper, but once I have a quick sketch of what I want to do the software I use the most are Adobe Photoshop and "3ds Max". I find the latter being the most useful when making the first versions of any new environments: often in 2D I make interesting things that might not translate well into the game. Sometimes it is because it looks interesting at a bigger scale, but looks just like a huge wall when you are looking at it from the floor level and a specific field of view (finally that is how the player will see it). Also for Zeno Clash I always try to avoid horizontal and vertical lines in favor of a more "organic" look, and in 2D it is very easy (you can even draw the horizon like a squiggly line), but in 3D you need to have more respect for the laws of space and perspective. The tool I would like to have the most is a way to visualize in real-time the lighting of the environments in "3ds Max". Setting up all the materials so that they will render in the real-time viewports in a similar way to how they look in the game is possible, but a bit time consuming. What you can’t do yet is to quickly see how lighting (including at least some form of cast shadows) will look. Right now you need to render many different tests.

- What is in the future for Art in games? Printing screenshots of the main menu and using them as colorful wall posters, maybe?

It is interesting that you suggest printing a screenshot of a game and putting it on the wall, because my brother printed concept art by Craig Mullins (artwork for The Marathon Trilogy games) and he has those framed and hanging on his apartment walls, but he didn’t print any screenshots. The thing is that screenshots seldom look as interesting as good concept art, so there is one of the challenges for art in games.

- How much Art is important for improving user’s interface?

There are some games where the interface is as much of a character in the game as any other art asset (I am thinking of DEFCON: Everybody Dies and other hacker games, puzzle games, e t.c.), but in other type of games you have to be careful not to make it too important. The reason the user interface exists is to provide useful information to the player, it is mainly a functional thing. In this case "form follows function", so I think of the interface and the HUD more from a designer point of view. Of course the user’s interface and the HUD have to be consistent with the art style of the game, but personally I don’t like it when the HUD is too eye-catching. When you see a screenshot of a game and the first thing you notice is a brightly colored, detailed baroque HUD, I think that is a mistake, because it is not supposed to be more important than the characters or the action (and the HUD will be on your screen during the whole game!).

During the last testing session for Zeno Clash I saw an example of how an art decision got in the way of functionality for the HUD. I had decided that for the weapons in the HUD we wouldn’t have numbers to display the ammunition left, because in the world of Zeno Clash people don’t know how to read or write, so they don’t use numbers. I wanted a HUD consistent with how people in the game represent things. People who don’t use numbers will draw a thing many times to represent a big number, or they will carve dents on a stick - there are many ways to represent an amount without numbers, so that is what we tried: drawing a number of dots or "bullets" the player had left in his gun. But the testers did not understand this quickly enough, so we are going back to displaying ammunition with a number. If the player has to pay too much attention to the HUD then I feel it failed.

- Is there any post-production required for in-game Art?

I think that in films there is a more ordered approach to production, (with very rigid pre-production, production and post-production stages), because once you filmed something it is very expensive to return a step and do it again. In videogame production you can be a bit messier, the main character could change dramatically when the project is nearing completion, and that doesn’t force you to remake all the scenes. There are still many things that have to be "post-production" because you cannot make decisions like color-correction, editing and lighting until most of the art assets are there. I have had to remove some things from Zeno Clash, because things changed in the story, but I have also removed some scenes or dialogue because they were too long or did not contribute that much. Good writing is also concise writing, I don’t like long encyclopedic background stories, the player will figure out things on his own as he plays. I also think you don’t expect too many narrative sequences which are non-interactive when you are playing an Action game.

- Which already released games have great Art?

I really liked the Art for Thief, especially the animated videos (mostly by Daniel Thron, I think). I also remember the crazy environments in American McGee's Alice (2000) always kept me going just to see how the next world would look like. The art in the latest Zelda (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess) is also great: it is very varied and beautiful.

- Are there more factors to consider for Art in MultiPlayer games?

Not only MultiPlayer mode, but all the gameplay features should be factors to consider when working on the art. I haven’t worked much on MultiPlayer games, but I think what Valve Corporation did for Team Fortress 2 (2007) were good art decisions. They designed the different character classes to have recognizable silhouettes because it is important for MultiPlayer games to differentiate the enemies from very far away. Also, I think they captured very well the essence of MultiPlayer shooters which is "fun violence" with a non-photorealistic, comedic approach. Maybe the space shooter genre (side-scrolling shooter arcades) is the one that imposes fewer restrictions on the art, because the basic gameplay is so simple. You can find all kind of experimental or far fetched art styles in shooters: minimalist or abstract art, manga, Sci-fi, e t.c. You can even find the most horrible images in a Kitsch game devoted to flying naked wrestlers: I’m not making that up, just browse the Internet for the game Cho Aniki (1992-2008).

The picture shows how Edmundo generally works for new environments doing quick 2D-drawings and then some basic geometry in 3D to test different kinds of lighting

- What are the notable moments of the Art Direction you’ve provided for the game?

One of the important moments was more than a year ago, when we were working on the prototype of the game. There was a bar in the game, which was supposed to have all kind of diverse characters, but the place looked empty. I put an extra character who was a shrouded figure, sitting alone next to a table with his glass, and a naked baby on the table. We don’t see many children in First Person Shooters, do we? FPS games are often populated only by adults. In my imagination this character was a father who went to the bar, and took his child with him because he couldn’t leave the baby alone, but everyone who played the bar scene looked at all the characters and always commented something about this shrouded creature: "Is that a witch?", "Oh my God, he is going to eat that baby!". Then I protested: "Hey, he might be kind of ugly and creepy, but there is no reason to think he wants to eat his baby!". I saw this character was interesting, and that is when I decided to turn it into "Father-Mother", who has a much more important part in the story, because I liked it that he was misunderstood and challenged everyone’s expectations of how he should behave.

- What challenges have you encountered during the creative process?

- The Starting point is the most difficult part for me. When you start writing or drawing something you could say "the first strokes" will define most of how the finished piece will look like. Sure, you can polish and modify a lot along the way, but you always start with a thousand pre-conceptions, and generally it doesn’t disturb me that my ideas might be bad, but instead that all the things I didn’t think about before starting (but are still a part of the work) will be bad. I think this is my biggest block (or writers' block, if that is the case) and the best way to get through it is to just start writing or drawing without worrying so much and even if I hate what I just did, I will probably keep some ingredients of it for the next version. It is not a quick process, but when I compare the first drafts with the final version I am very happy to take this iterative approach.

- If there is anything else, you’d like to add, please, do it here.

Thank you for the interview! In the end your work only makes sense if you can show it to other people and I also like to read about fellow developers who worked on games I like, so I am happy to contribute!

- We're very grateful to you, Edmundo, for finding the time to answer all our questions and give our readers such an extensive view on high quality Art Direction!

14.11.2008 14:25, Unicorn


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Новости: 05.02.2010 Названа точная дата выхода Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition
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Читы: Zeno Clash
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Ролики: Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition [X360-trailer, 1:03, mp4, 640x352]
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