Tag Archives: 38 Studios

Concept Art Roundup: BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us, and More

Concept Art Roundup: BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us, and More

Concept artists are kind of the unsung heroes of game development. Well, so are the programmers. And the designers. Everyone, really, but concept artists are tasked with the nearly impossible on a daily basis: craft something unique and fresh and amazing from nothing. The lead’s idea or whatever conglomerate concept the leads decide on is nothing more than words. “Post-apocalyptic mega city” or “ethereal sandscape of dreams and nightmares” or “cyber medieval space castle” are provocative words, sure, but they elicit a wide range of responses.

All those wildly varied ideas that flit in and out of existence in everyone’s minds have to be simultaneously consolidated and honed through the hands of a concept artist. Given them an idea, point them a direction, and watch them go. They’re like one of those windup toy monkeys with the cymbals except each tinny crash also brings about an amazing piece of art. Both rough and refined, raw and kinetic, these bits of visual magic inspire an entire team of modelers and designers and engineers and other artists to explore a space that was previously nonexistent.

The most amazing thing, though, is that a lot of it is on the Internet now. Code takes years to go open source and design docs rarely make it out in any state less guarded than a GDC slideshow, but art is thrown out into the world as soon as (and sometimes before) the game releases. Portfolio sites, art repositories, social networks: they all house visual treasures beyond measure, and we’re going to look at them. Hard.

I’ve sifted through said sources and dug up some neat pieces that came up this week. There’s a lot of BioShock Infinite stuff from a fellow named Ben Lo, a concept artist at BioWare who cooked up things like The First Lady airship and Finkton Docks. One of his pieces was even selected into the 2011 Into The Pixel gallery, an annually cultivated collection of art from all over the industry by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (AIAS) and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA).

Next up is Maciej Kuciara. Kuciara is a concept artist currently working at Naughty Dog on The Last of Us. He also worked on Crysis 2, so I’m guessing he’s probably really tired of coming up with wrecked, empty metropolises overtaken by foliage and monsters. Kuciara also works on films like the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending and Sergey Bodrov’s The Seventh Son, so don’t be surprised if you recognize his work in other places.

Billy Ahlswede (portfolio link might be NSFW) is currently a senior character artist at Sony Online Entertainment, drawing up the dudes and dudettes you’ll be playing for EverQuest Next, but his past is probably more interesting: character artist at 38 Studios, the Rhode Island development company backed by former baseball pro Curt Schilling. 38 Studios, if you don’t remember, was the center of the entire May-June news cycle due to its massive bankruptcy and blowout scandal last year. Hundreds of people lost their jobs and their MMO Project Copernicus got canned. Ahlswede thankfully managed to land on his feet and began to showcase some of his work. Sad to see people get laid off, but Copernicus at least looked pretty neat.

Prior to the Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut, Alex Figini worked almost exclusively on the MotorStorm series. With all five MotorStorm games under his belt, it’s a little surprising to see him branch out immediately to an established sci-fi world like Mass Effect as a concept artist for BioWare, but it fits him like a glove. Illogically luminescent buildings, structures that could only exist with advanced technology or a disregard for safety, and creepily clean-cut environment are all there, so I’d say he nailed it. I guess it’s not surprising given what he draws in his spare time.

This last one isn’t wholly connected to video games, but you know what? I don’t care. I loved Wreck-It Ralph and the Paperman short that preceded it in theatres is easily one of my favorite seven minutes of anything. Part of that can be attributed to Helen Chen, a visual development artist at Disney. She also worked on Frankenweenie but all I really want to do is watch Wreck-It Ralph right now so excuse me while I cut this paragraph short kbyeeeee.

I’m thinking of turning this into a regular thing. What do you guys think?

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Free and Clear in a Fated World

Sometimes you know something is wrong, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. It’s not like standing at the box office of a seedy theatre in Tijuana, crumpled bills clenched in your sinful hands as a deluge of guilty sweat runs from your forehead to your unshaven face; you know what you’re about to do is wrong and you can pinpoint exactly the reasons why.

No, this sort of wrong is a bit more elusive, something more akin to a cognitive dissonance that takes you days or weeks to reconcile. Suddenly, though, it clicks and you realize what made you feel so off, why it’s as if you’d been wearing your pants backwards all day and just now noticed.

This happened while I was playing Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the debut title from Ken Rolston & co. at Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios and its subsidiary Big Huge Games. It’s an action RPG that features you as a mortal who has broken free from the bonds of fate (and is thenceforth creatively referred to as the “Fateless One”). This really wouldn’t be all that big of a deal except fate actually turns out to be a pretty big deal in the world of Amalur.

Everyone has a predetermined destiny spun by the Fateweavers and you had just recently fulfilled yours by dying. However, you are resurrected by the Travelocity gnome’s big brother and have fallen from the path previously set before you. This, as it turns out, has some pretty nice perks, such as being able to change the fates of anyone around you and getting discounts at the corner store.

And here is where the dissonance begins. The entire game is based on the concept of fate and it continually hammers into your gamer-sized brain (lest it leaks out while you petition to change the ending of Super Mario World for not having enough Yoshis) that the destiny laid at your feet prior no longer exists. Your path had ended but your journey did not.

You are free.

The problem is that I am still playing a game with a predetermined ending and predetermined plot. Worse yet, there is a single ending that bursts forth with the uplifting revelation that we are all unfettered by fate and have been granted full agency of our own lives by way of simply existing. How am I supposed to feel free when I know the hundreds of thousands of other players are plodding along the exact same path as me?

It’s an odd concession you make when you play video games, more so than when you watch movies or read books; you are participating in an interactive medium. Films and novels are wholly presented to you as a story and you are never once put in a product designed to make you connect with a fictional world through a controllable conduit. In games, the immersion provided is just as important as how the game plays and how it looks. In the moments you are playing, you should lose yourself as the character and not simply watch or read a story. You should believe you are this man destined for death but living in defiance.

You are fateless.

That, unfortunately, is not the case. In fact, you are operating in a reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. There is only one path and only one way this game will end and that is the way 38 Studios has deemed fit. Being freed from a destiny that has already been fulfilled only to be put on the road towards another one? The contrast is stark and highlights this unfortunate dichotomy in an otherwise excellent game.

This isn’t a problem that is unique to Reckoning, but it’s easier to sweep under the rug when every other game isn’t focused on the importance of free will and the power in recognizing your ability to not lie down and die. This is only the story of a man who is unshackled, unrestrained, and unequivocally autonomous in a kingdom of marching ants, but you are not him.

You are not free. You are not fateless.

You are bound.

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