Updated Wed, Jan 02, 2008 by tthadmin
by Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle
The artistic side of game design has always intrigued me. I'll admit a little shame when I think how much of any game's objects and scenery I take for granted; after all, someone once upon a time carefully drew that three-dimensional rock that… grrr… obstructed my line-of-sight on that mob I'm trying to bow-kite. My sense of new-found awe is only deepened when I realized, last Christmas holiday, that my three-year-old niece could draw a more convincing stick-figure than me.
We returned to the good folks at Magic Hat Software; creators of Irth Online, the freshest fantasy Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (or MMORPG, for shorter) to hit the market. For a more complete introduction to the game, please check out the Irth Online official site and/or our interview with Tony Pungitore, Lead Developer.
Also, stay tuned after the Q&A. The developers just might pull a special offer (a.k.a. discount!) out of their Magic Hat just for you!
I asked for an artist interview, and Thomas Gale was kind enough to respond. We provide his comments, and a few exclusive screens from Irth Online, below!
Thomas Gale, Artist, Irth Online - I started at Magic Hat a few years ago and I am involved with most aspects of art for the MMORPG: Irth Online. I began working nearly 10 years ago as an artist in the computer game industry developing mostly PC games in various genres over the years.
Ten Ton Hammer - What kind of formal training does it take to become a game artist? Are the tools you use proprietary, or can anyone begin learning the rudiments?
Gale - Formal training isn’t necessary but it looks good on a resume and may help a lot for those who want some structure. What’s more important is your portfolio, your ability to work with a team, and the limits of your own ambitions. Persistence pays off. It may also help when starting out to specialize in one particular field that you most enjoy (modeling, animation, environment, textures, concept etc). Most of my dev time is spent with 3DStudioMax for 3D and Adobe Photoshop for 2D. There are lots of other great apps and tools but those two are my standards. We also use some special licensed tools: EmotionFX for animation and SpeedTree for foliage. But I’ve only used those for this particular project, whereas I’ve used Max and Photoshop on every game project I’ve ever worked on.
Gale - I grew up playing video games, RPGs, and such fairly non-stop. So all that history takes a part in what I do for a living. With Irth Online in particular I would say my personal touch is not particularly apparent. It’s been a group effort. Due to the fact we are a small studio we have had to be very clever in production of assets in order to get the job done. For example, we bought and converted a good chunk of assets from the cancelled game WISH. A distinctly “Irthian” art style is still coalescing.
Ten Ton Hammer - How does one go about bringing a mob to life? Does every model go through a conceptual phase, which is then approved and made into an animated model?
Gale - As mentioned a number of the creatures of Irth were resurrected from WISH. A good portion of these have had makeovers. Ideally, you would start with a few concept sketches and a quick description, then refine those sketches and further that description to get something like a D&D Monster Manual entry. Then you model, texture, rig/skin, and animate the beast. Rigging and skinning is a phase which involves defining which bones influence which parts of the mesh for movement. Then you need to define the monsters properties and connect the animations to the AI in special data files. Finally you export, test, and rework any glitches.
Gale - Depending on the complexity and quality, the production time can vary quite a bit. From start to finish, a flying dragon could take a month or more, while your basic goblin could be cranked out in a week perhaps if you didn’t run into problems. Different levels of experience and how much caffeine is flowing in your blood are also factors.
Ten Ton Hammer - Is it easier to work with classical, well-known creature models or types of mobs that no one has heard of before?
Gale - Hmm. Hard to say. I suppose it would be slightly easier to make a freaky blob with tentacles and a gaping hole for a mouth than an accurate horse. Though if your freak blob has 100 tentacles and 100 mouths and leaves a trail of convulsing, gelatinous oozelings then that time estimate can flip-flop quickly. (Not a promise of [new] features. :)
Ten Ton Hammer - The lighting effects in Irth Online are very well done. Night means night (as in actual darkness that you'll need some help to see through), something growing less common in MMOs. Does this present a challenge for model design & maintaining the immersive feel of the game world?
Gale - Advanced lighting primarily presents a problem performance-wise as each new light can rapidly eat up your framerate. Fortunately special lighting and material effects, such as shininess, glowing, detail bumps, shadows tend to be relatively easy from the art side and very tricky from the programming side. Good lighting helps with mood, atmosphere and immersion tremendously. Almost as much as sound.
Ten Ton Hammer - What sets the graphics of Irth Online apart from its contenders, in your opinion?
Gale - Versatility and flexibility. You have lots of flexibility in customizing your player character with clothing and armor and equipment. You have a good chunk of options for crafting various items that add unique detail to your little corner of the world and that library of desirables is only going to grow with time. You have freedom to travel almost anywhere across a vast landscape. With time, the world will become lush with custom details that are player influenced and often player designed.
Gale - Well almost everything I’ve worked on someone else has also worked on, which highlights the importance of collaboration in development. I guess it might be cheesy to say this but I’m proud of my attempts to bring together what other people have done and make all the pieces fit into something that is cohesive yet varied (if that makes sense).
Ten Ton Hammer - Can you tell us what you're working on presently?
Gale - More clothing and animations for player characters. The odd new critter or object of interest. Bug fixes and optimizations always. There are many more special features in the works but that is still secret.
Thanks to Thomas Gale, Dan Milewski, and Magic Hat software for the 2nd installment in a series of Irth Online interviews.